The Doom That Came to Cowtown

Portland-Vancouver Planning.
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Tentative July vacation plans:

  1. Fly into Portland late around the 10th or 11th.
  2. Attend Tiki Kon on Saturday the 12th.
  3. Observe Hipsters in their natural environment on the 13th.
  4. See Book of Mormon at some point.
  5. Seattle for a day or two? More time in Portland?
  6. Vancouver from Wednesday the 16th until Sunday the 20th.
I'll probably fly in, though driving is always an option, though driving to Portland is 14 hours and returning from Vancouver is 12. This basically shaves a day of visiting off of each end. It also ties me to the other drivers, who might not have the same itinerary in mind. Yeah, leaning towards flying.

I'll Miss Rob Anders
So I just hear that Ron Anders lost the nomination for Calgary - Signal Hill. As you might imagine, there was a lot of virtual cheering on Facebook about this. For you Yanks: Ron Anders was widely considered the worst MP in Parliament, but kept getting elected year after year for being a party loyalist in a deeply Conservative riding. Provided he got the nomination, he was a lock to win. As an analogy, imagine a Tea party zealot running for the House of Representatives as a Republican in a deeply Republican area. The only way you get rid of him is at the nomination level. And they have.

I'm glad to see him go, but I'd have much preferred that he was voted out by his constituents rather than by the riding association. I don't care which party, just anyone else. Losing him to another Conservative runs into the same problem that a lot of time travellers kill Hitler stories have: The conditions remain just as bad for everyone, but now you've made it possible for someone competently evil to replace the incompetent that you had before. Ron Liepert is going to be just as conservative, and he's going to vote precisely the same way on every bill that Rob Anders would have voted. He's going to support the same corrupt Harper regime if the Conservative Party of Canada manages to win the 2015 election. He's going to be actively working for Conservative party policies as someone who knows what they're doing instead of falling asleep during question period.

In the end, Anders may have been an embarrassment to the country, but he was also an embarrassment to the Conservative Party. Liepert will simply be a silent foot soldier. Coming up on a significant election, I'd rather the CPC had a few more embarrassments and few less foot soldiers.

Vancouver GBU
I'll probably have more in depth things to say about this trip in a while, but for now, the highlights.


Visiting with assorted friends. As usual, that is the whole point of the trip. In particular, it was nice to have some quality time with ES (who stayed with me at my B&B for the first two nights), somejauntypolka, stephtopia and othelianna.

It's good that they have random encounters, but where are the bosses?

Saw thee decent movies. The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Wind Rises, and Frozen. Reviews of all three are forthcoming.

Had a couple of nice pub nights at Storm Crow, St. Augustine, and the improbably named Burrard Pub.

Restaurants included a mix of old (Clubhouse Sushi, Wooden Shoe, Red Ginger) and new (Saffron, All the sushi joints on Commercial)

Also did a lot of window shopping with Rosie/Kelly/Shannon. Found some great and quirky stores and also finally got to see the Vancouver Flea Market

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for flea

Read, relaxed, explored.


Didn't get to see Gareth or Ryan. That sucks.


No depressive incidents. The only ugly thing really happened afterward, and that's my usual Vancouver homesickness. Except this time it's a lot worse. I'll write about that too, in the next few days. Suffice it to say that I'm scared of my options.

Superheros and Objectivism
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From a discussion of an (alleged) Randian sub-text in The Incredibles:

There’s two scenes that the Objectivists use: the one with Dash grumbling over having to hide his super-speed (“Everybody’s special, Dash.” “Which is just another way of saying nobody is.”) and Syndrome’s attempts to eliminate super-powered humans entirely.

They work equally well as a demonstration (and warning) about immaturity. Dash is specifically shown as maybe nine, while Syndrome is an adult who hasn’t gotten over being nine yet.

It’s not surprising that Objectivists miss that point.
Just wanted to share it. Thanks BigHank53, for making the point.

Time Flies like an Arrow, But Dogs Like a Milkbone
Sometimes, my problems with dogs is a little comical. Or it would be if it didn't contain a threat of animal violence.

I'm staying in a two bedroom suite that take up most of a house near Commercial Drive. I don't have access to the basement or the backyard. Someone else lives there. They live there with a dog.

Now I've heard the dog barking and it sounds both mean and loud. Since it doesn't have access to "my" areas (the suite and the front yard) I didn't worry about. Until today.

Today I leave the suite to go and meet a friend for a show. It's quasi time sensitive because the show is starting in less than an hour. Anyway, I'm standing at the top of the stairs, and I've just closed the door behind, which automatically locks. I turn to descend the stairs, and there's the dog at the base of the stairs, between me and the front gate. It's looking up at me with a WTF expression on its face that I'm sure I mirrored. I fish the keys out of my pocket, unlock the door and go back in the house.

The dog is medium to largish, looking like a Lab or a Rottweiler, that sort of size. I'm not sure about the breed. It's a dog built for mauling, not shepherding.

I only have one exit, the front door.

Plan A: go to the back of the house, open a window and try to attract the dog to the back yard. Yelling, thumping a stick and otherwise making noise does not attract it.

I look out the front window to see that it is sitting on the landing immediately outside the door, watching assorted humans walk by on the street. It is not barking, merely waiting patiently.

Plan B: I text the landlord.

There's a dog sitting on the front step. Is it dangerous to strangers?
She responds immediately with a statement that both fails to answer the question, while simultaneously answering the question.

I apologize - will call downstairs immediately.
The owner calls for the dog ("Arrow". Heh). Arrow ignores the owner until she basically comes right up to it. Then it's back to the back yard and into the basement.

So there you have it, trapped by a dog that may or may not have been dangerous, but everyone assumed it would be. An yet, at no point did it leap, bark or bite. Still, I'm glad no one took any chance. But they might want to check if the back fence was secure and/or high enough to contain it.

Airline Serendipity
An actual picture of me.
I booked my flight to Vancouver a month ago. Managed to get a nice price on an 11 AM flight. Only problem was, I discovered I hadn't actually done that - it was an 11 PM flight. D'oh!

This was irritating because I actually had plans for the evening, and I didn't want to inconvenience the B&B owner I was staying with.

I resolved to throw myself on the mercy of the airline and try to get an earlier flight. I also mentally acknowledged that it was my own damn fault, and if I had to stick with the flight I booked and paid for.

After finishing my packing, I called up Westjet and got Adam. Adam was more than willing to change my flight, but it was going to cost me an additional $275. I balked at that. "You have another option," he said, "If you're at the airport and pay $75, they can try to get you on an earlier flight, but it depends on there being seats available. The next two flights are sold out, but there's seven available seats on the 3 PM flight."

I thanked him and made myself ready for the bus ride to the airport (there being no car2go-s in my neighbourhood at the time). That's when I got my second piece of good luck. "Are you going to the airport right now," asked my roommate Candace, "Because I'm driving to Edmonton right now and I can drop you off since it's on my way." Score!

At the airport, I spoke to Claire, who jumped through a few hoops to get a flight. First, she said, the early departure fee was only for within two hours of your flight. She made some phone calls to get an exception made and was ultimately successful in getting me on the 3 PM flight. And she only charged me $50 for this, which was less than the $75 Adam quoted me, and the $275 extra buying the ticket over the phone would have cost me. There was some good-natured teasing.

"Repeat after me," she said. "Westjet. Is. My. Favourite. Airline."
"Westjet. Is. My. Favourite. Airline. Heck, it even has the advantage of being true!"

And then I had a few hours to kill at the airport, it being 11:30. I had a relaxing lunch, wandered around the shops, bought some Callebaut.

On my way through the checkpoint I was complimented on my socks by the fellow manning the metal detector. He proceeded to show me that he had equally good taste in socks.

My laptop got pulled aside for a swab. I asked what they were swabbing for, and got "Chemical residue" as an answer. I was reminded of the joke about the lost man in an air balloon who encounters an engineer - her answering being technically correct, but not in any way useful. I opted not to follow up.

Oh, and I saw my ex-roomie RP manning another checkpoint lineup. She seemed busy, so I didn't bother her.
And now I wait to board my beautiful flight to Vancouver. My vacation has begun and it's fortune is already coming my way. I predict a good one.

An actual picture of me.
I had an opportunity to watch a "Classic SF Mystery Movie" for a charitable donation. I screwed up on the donation and ended up paying a lot more than I intended, which doubly sucks because I don't like giving to non-secular causes (but hey, SF movie). I got to the theatre early, but not early enough to make a difference for seating. And I ended up being damn near last in the theatre because apparently you had to jump through some hoops prior to the show and there was no indication of that until I tried to walk in. This meant a seat in the second row.

Finally they made a bunch of announcements related to Aliens, but ended up screening Alien. A few observations:

1) It has not aged well.
2) Judging from the audience's reaction, it's gone from being one of the most terrifying movies ever to unintentional comedy.
3) The assorted actors are all so young.
4) Prometheus really was a remake of Alien - up to and including a crew full of stupid people and a duplicitous android.
5) Computers that make teletype noises while printing characters on a VT100 screen at 300 baud are really annoying. If I were to make one improvement to the movie, it would be to simply have "Mother" (the shipboard computer) be voice activated, thus eliminating the computer interface as a source of unintentional dating.

I'd have left early, but I found out the girl next to me had never seen it before, and I figured I'd keep half an eye on her during the scary bits to see if she jumped. She didn't. I suspect she found it about as scary as I'd have found a 1950's monster movie scary when I was of similar age (late teens?).

For an audience full of local SF fans, I recognized damn few people. My position in line and seating in the theatre prevented that. This could be good or bad, depending on who I saw.

Giving up my Appendix for Lent
An actual picture of me.
Friday night was possibly the most painful night of my life. I didn't know it at the time, but my appendix was inflamed.

The day started fine and I had food from the local cafe for lunch, a few pieces of fruit for snacks, and half a restaurant meal at Brewsters following archery. The "half" qualifier was because I've been trying to stay in my points target this week for weight watchers. The "Mac and Meatloaf" they sell is 32 points, and I only had 16 to spare.

From lunch on, it felt like I had a rock in my stomach, and I started to get chills after finishing my meal at Brewsters. Instead of hanging around chatting, I opted to just go home and sleep it off. There wasn't much sleep.

Around 11pm it started to hurt. There was nausea and I had the chills bad - I just could not get warm no matter what I did. Finally, the chills overwhelmed the pain at around 1am and I took a piping hot shower for about a half an hour. This warmed me up and also cut the pain down some. I moved the trash bin to my bed in case I barfed.

The pain returned and kept getting worse. A few times during the night I thought about getting up and going to the hospital, but didn't because of a combination of weird mental issues: Moving made it hurt more, embarrassment, denial that I had anything seriously wrong with me. The pain also moved around a bit, starting around the belly button and gradually settling in my lower right-hand side. For the record, it felt something like trying to pass broken lightbulbs. This only convinced me that it was some kind of food poisoning, and that the bad food was working itself out. I'd always assumed that appendicitis was simply a sharp pain where the appendix is. This turns out to be incorrect - the way it occurred is actually classic appendicitis symptoms. Around 5am, the pain subsided and I passed out from exhaustion.

I woke up around 10am Saturday morning feeling like I'd had the shit beat out of me. As in, I figured I'd had abdominal spasms hard enough that I thought I'd actually bruised my lower intestine. I mentioned this on FB, where several people chimed in with "maybe it's appendicitis". I didn't think it was (I was still working on the food poisoning angle). But I looked up the symptoms. The symptoms lined up so precisely, that I was of two minds. The first was "No no no, this is an absolutely inconvenient time to have appendicitis, so it can't be true". The second was "I guess I'm going to the hospital. Better take a change of clothing and some books because I'm going to be there at least overnight."

Sadly, there were no car2go-s in the neighbourhood, I had to drive my own car.

Foothills hospital runs a very tight ship. And I was lucky enough to go in when there weren't many cases. Now appendicitis is one of those things that gets you pushed up towards the head of the line, but even so, there simply weren't that many people around looking for treatment. It was -30 out, so that might explain part of it.

Triage and check-in took a few minutes. I was literally taking my seat in the waiting room when they called me in. Now I was in the hurry up and wait line of a modern hospital for something that wasn't immediately fatal. The ER doctor asked me a bunch of questions and did a bunch of tests with his hands. That's when I learned that "rebound tenderness" was a thing - specifically, a thing I had. The doc then sent me for an ultrasound.

After an hour's wait, I got in to see the ultrasound technician. The ultrasound showed an inflamed appendix sufficiently clearly that they didn't schedule an MRI. It was at this point that I noticed a certain repetitiveness amongst the professionals at the hospital - they were all asking me the same questions.

"February 30th, 1968."
"Any allergies?"
"Not to my knowledge."
I called the tech on it.

"I noticed everyone keeps asking me these questions even though you've got the answers on the chart you're holding - is it deliberate?"
"Yes, it's to ensure we don't make a mistake."
"Well OK then."
At this point I resolved to simply answer the questions no matter how many times I was asked and to do so without snark.

I hung around longer and they eventually found I was waiting in the wrong area - the area with the normal chairs instead of the super comfy recliners. They made me sit in the recliners. Eventually I met with the surgeon who was assigned to me. He had a gaggle of residents following him. They asked me questions, repeated a bunch of tests and then he asked opinions. At one point I think he deliberately low-balled my condition.

"The inflammation doesn't seem too bad - I was thinking of just prescribing antibiotics and sending the patient home."
"I would not feel comfortable sending this patient home."
They then suggested surgery and advised me of the possible outcomes. i.e. complications that could include scars and death. The former I wasn't too worried about. The latter? Well more on that later. I signed some consent forms and they added additional questions that would, once again, be repeated at every stage:

"Every had surgery before?"
"Yes, twice. First when I was six weeks old to fix a birth defect in my hernia. Second, when they knocked me out to remove all four wisdom teeth when I was twenty-two."
"Any adverse reactions to general anesthetic?"
"Not to my knowledge. Based on a small sample set, I come to pretty fast."
Around this time I cancelled the Oscar party I had scheduled for the following night, and also called nosarious to come get my car.

I waited in my recliner some more. Gave Gerry the keys and read my book. Finally, a nurse called me up.
"Good news, you've got a room and they're sending you straight into surgery."
In my mind I panicked a little - I was going to get cut open right away?!? Outwardly I just followed orders. Strip down, wait on the gurney. An orderly came and pushed me down to the OR. Unfortunately, I wasn't the only appendectomy patient in the queue and the guy before me was worse off so they slotted him in before me. The orderly then took me up to my room to wait.

Nobody looks graceful transferring from a gurney to a bed.

I got to cool my heels for an hour waiting for my spot in the queue. The nurses took good care of me and fed me (via my IV) some antibiotics, just in case. And I got to contemplate my mortality. All kinds of things could happen. I might have a bad reaction to the anesthetic, my appendix might rupture, the surgeon might fuck up. All in all, this could be my last conscious hour. And I took deep breaths and tried, unsuccessfully, to put it out of my mind.

Finally, I just decided that if I died on the operating table, that would be a "good death". Just turn out the lights and never turn them back on. I wouldn't even know anything had happened - no pain, no suffering, no existential angst. It would suck that I didn't have a chance to say goodbyes, but few people do.

Meanwhile the rational part of my brain would chime in "you know dying during routine surgery under these circumstances is long odds right? You probably face equal odds just by driving for a year."

They wheeled me back to the OR and I tried not to imagine myself on the Green Mile. Once there, in the holding area, I got a surprise treat, halfdane866, who works at the hospital, had left a note for the OR staff to treat me right (though I like to think they'll treat everyone right, even the jerks). The nurses in the holding area wheeled me to the OR and there was some light banter.

"We're not that good at this - hopefully we won't bump you into too many corners."
"I'm sure your driving skills are up to the task."
"Well you do have two women drivers, so who knows?"
"I would never make sexist remarks while going into surgery - I might wake up to find you shaved off one of my eyebrows."
"Oh, we can't do things like that - ethics."
Incidentally, aside from the lead surgeon, everyone who treated me was female. All the nurses, the anesthesiologist and her assistant, as well as the assisting surgeon. Since I generally get along better with female professionals than male ones, this suited me fine.

After the requisite questions from the anesthesiologist, we chatted for a bit. I think this was deliberate on her part to put me at ease. Turns out she knits, and wanted to learn weaving and had almost bought a loom off of someone a few years back named Anne. Since I know an Anne who was selling a loom a few years ago, this was an interesting coincidence. I suggested talking to halfdane866 if she was interested in the SCA.

Finally it was time. I was on the OR bed, stretched out like Jesus on the cross and had assorted tubes and wires attached. The surgeons had arrived and they were ready to go. The mask got put over my mouth and I was instructed to breath slowly and deeply. Also that I was going to dreamland, so I should concentrate on a good dream. I tried to imagine sex. At some point they turned on the anesthetic and the ceiling started to swirl. I think I managed to mumble "getting woozy now."

I came to. A nurse was there and was asking me simple questions to gauge my level of consciousness. I imagine she only had to ask these once, but it's entirely possible that this was going on for some time before I was aware of it.

"What's your name?"
"Do you know where you are?"
"What's your name?"
Do you know where you are?"
"What's your name?"
Do you know where you are?"
"In the hospital." (Nailed it, first try!)
Interesting thing about being knocked out like this - it always feels like a slice of time has been removed from my life. Whereas I don't get that feeling from sleeping.

I was super anxious upon waking, because I felt like I was in danger of choking. My mouth and throat were super dry and that was contributing to the feeling. That my throat was sore from being intubated (because you stop breathing when they give you a general anesthetic). I focused on not choking as they wheeled me up to my room. I do remember reflexively correcting the orderly when he called me "Mr. Sire".

Back in the room I was given a sippy cup by the nurse. That and the effects of the anesthetic going away caused the anxiety to go away. By this time it was 10pm (I went into the OR at 7pm). I watched a little TV while the nurses and aides monitored me. Every 15 minutes for the first hour, then every hour until about 3am, then every 4 hours.

I slept. I answered questions, mostly "no" to "are you in pain?" and I observed that hospital beds are ridiculously comfortable. I followed up with the assisting doctor who observed that If I could drink, eat and piss, there was no reason not to discharge me.

That other appendectomy case in the OR before me? We ended up sharing a room so I got to listen in on his treatment. I feel inordinately proud of not needing any pain killers while he was asking for more hits of morphine. Inordinate, because from what I could glean from the professionals involved, I had the most routine and problem free appendectomy ever. Everything was caught in plenty of time to be taken care of with the minimum amount of intrusion. Roommate had a somewhat more problematic case. Even still, I suspect he was discharged a few hours later.

Total time in the hospital, about twenty-six hours.

So to Dr. McKinnon and his team, and to Nurse Mary Jane and Nurse's Aide Val (the two whom I saw the most while recovering), thank you.

And now off to my next adventure, where simple things like sitting up, blowing my nose, and being able to sleep on my side are all rock-solid achievements!

Edmonton, Calgary, and the Uncanny Valley
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I've traveled a bit. Not as much as I'd like, but enough that I'm a seasoned traveler. Strangely, I haven't been to Edmonton very much, which is odd given it's basically Calgary's twin. So much so that I've poo-pooed the sometimes bitter rivalry between the two cities as Red-headed twins arguing over who has the more attractive pattern of freckles.

I think that sameness fuels a lot of the animosity, and it does so because of something akin to the Uncanny Valley. Because they are so similar, yet not identical, we focus on the differences. Our subconscious expectation of familiarity if constantly thwarted by small differences we encounter.

When I'm in another city, the differences are obvious. Vancouver, for example, is an older coastal city in an earthquake zone. The buildings are different, the plants are different, the weather is different, the layout is different, the people act and dress different. Hell, the whole place even smells different. When I'm there, I know I'm not in Calgary.

Edmonton is just like Calgary though. It's of a similar age, in a similar biome, with similar people. When I'm in Edmonton it seems so much like Calgary that I'm constantly surprised by little details; the colour of city buses, or the presence of different fast food franchises. It's also frustrating because I feel like I should be familiar with things when I'm clearly not.

In Vancouver, I know I'm someplace else, so I judge it on it's on merits. When I'm in Edmonton, it seems so much like Calgary that I judge it against Calgary, and not being Calgary, it can't measure up. And yes I'm aware of the corollary - an Edmontonian could make the exact same observation that Calgary is (to their mind) a flawed version of Edmonton.

Ultimately, this will go away as I spend more time there and I'm able to give Edmonton a proper analysis.

Just a Game, Part Two
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I was going to respond to a bunch of comments from earlier, but I think a second post will be better. Especially since I've had an extra day to ponder and get my jumbled half-formed thoughts a little more organized.

Let's imagine, for a moment, a society that promotes the re-creation of medieval skills and knowledge. There would be arts, crafts, and martial training. The group would have events, both locally and in larger regions. However, people in the group do not have anything like a separate persona, and there would be no requirement to dress or act medieval (though one could if they liked - to demonstrate one's talents in creating costumes using period techniques for example). The winner of a regional armoured competition would simply the winner of a tournament. In this group, you would simply be you.

The skills fostered in this group would be real skills. The relationships fostered in this group would be real relationships. All exactly as real as the skills and relationships in the SCA. Clearly this hypothetical group would not be the SCA. Probably wouldn't be nearly so fun either.

If you take the SCA and subtract out that hypothetical group, what are you left with? You're left with the form of the SCA - a group of people pretending to be medieval. It can only be pretend of course because we don't actually live in the middle ages. At the end of the weekend we pile into our cars and go back to our mundane lives.

It's not strictly re-enactment either. Our personas are not historical people - there is no King Arthur in the SCA, no Eleanor of Aquitaine. I have never seen anyone attempt to re-enact a real battle in the SCA, though I suppose it's been attempted at some point in the last 48 years.

We have different names from the modern world. We dress differently. We have achievements that, while based of real skills and activities, don't translate out into the modern world. That all looks like role-playing characters to me. I have a persona separate from myself that has clearly "levelled up". I'm quite proud of those levels, and all of them took the application of real-world effort to achieve.

The main argument I've seen against it being a LARP is that it promotes the honing of real skills. I don't know that that's a good argument. Games don't have to have purely artificial skills associated with them. The athleticism in a professional sport is not in any way a virtual skill - it's very very real. I think that because many LARPs have virtual skills there's a belief that they must have them - that something without virtual skills cannot therefore be a LARP. It's like saying that because birds fly, things that don't fly (penguins, say) cannot be birds.

There's more to the SCA than just the LARP aspects, but that doesn't mean the LARP aspects vanish - there's still an element of play-acting to the whole thing. Not everyone is necessarily good at it though. On a scale of one (doesn't play-act at all) to ten (balls-to-the-wall re-enactor who won't respond to you out-of-character), I'm probably about a two - I bow and use milord and milady. I could probably give a basic persona outline if I had to. But I don't have to be Olivier to participate.

Take the LARPing out of the SCA and you're left with the hypothetical group I describe above. No Kings or queens. No lords or ladies. Just the relationships and skills. And yet that seems a little boring doesn't it? It's like the LARPing aspect - the pomp and pageantry, the use of archaic titles and new identities - they're what really bring the SCA to life.

I don't mind that it's a LARP, even though I'm crap at LARPing, I have no problem with it being a LARP because I see nothing wrong with having fun in the context of a game. Nor do I see games as being necessarily frivolous things. People get out of them what they put in, and some people pour their very lives into the SCA.

Don't object that the SCA is a LARP. Object to the viewpoint that games don't matter.

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