January 6, 2014

Brooding, rambly thoughts on #precarityis

A few days ago, Myron (fellow librarian, former classmate, library advocate, and noted rabble-rouser) started the Twitter hashtag #precarityis to open up the much-needed conversation about precarious employment in the library world (in particular, but by no means limited to libraries in the Lower Mainland). Since then I've been closely following the hashtag, subsequent blog posts, and Facebook comments. The topic really resonated with me having been in a state of precarious work my entire working life without ever really being conscious of that fact. Next year marks the dubious occasion where my employment in libraries equals exactly half my life.

Duck at the Botanics, Edinburgh, cropped from previous version. Taken from English Wikipedia by en:User:Kitkatcrazy.
from English Wikipedia by en:User:Kitkatcrazy.

I wanted to share some thoughts/insights because I feel like I'm in a unique position to speak about it with my job situation(s) (working as an auxiliary librarian in two local library systems), but I totally know I'm not in a unique position at all. Precarity is the norm. Many (if not most) of my colleagues, co-workers, and friends are all somewhere along the spectrum of precarity and if they're not, it just might be that they left town. And not just librarians, but shelvers, library assistants, library technicians, and so on. We've been raised in an ecosystem of precarity. I had to rush out this post so i didn't chicken out or forget what I wanted to say. I'm so not a soapboxy person. "Be like the duck" has been a long-time personal mantra: calm on the surface, paddling like the dickens underneath. Or in the immortal words of Thumper, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all." Head down, non-confrontational, that's my M.O. so I've really been going back and forth about whether or not to go ahead with this blog post. But last week, I read this article by football player Chris Kluwe (with greater stakes and under greater scrutiny) about his speaking out for same-sex marriage rights. That convinced me it's time for me to say some things that need to be said. It's important to have this conversation, to add to it, to help inform those outside the precarity situation about how and why it's like this. The mental and physical toll precarity takes on an organization's employees.  I hope this is viewed as an effort to make my libraries better.

Some context:

The hashtag conversation that kicked things off

Wikipedia article on precarity
Until last week, I was unfamiliar with this term, though it exactly describes the current state of affairs in libraries.  I realize precarity extends well beyond libraryland, but that's where this conversation is focused.

Insightful blog posts from fellow librarians:
*  #precarityis what happens to the best minds of my generation  [Librarianaut]
*  #PRECARITYIS…  [Metacate]
*  On Precarity  [Bibliocracy]

Before moving to Vancouver, I'd honestly never heard of the term "auxiliary" in the context of a job. When I started applying for library jobs here in 2008, it took me a long while to get my head around the logistics of the on-call/auxiliary system because it's fairly counterintuitive, yet it's the defining trait of library work in the Lower Mainland. I had first applied for an auxiliary shelver position at a local public library. Nevermind that I'd already worked 8 years in higher positions at libraries in Alberta, public and academic, but this was one of those "foot in the door" moves that is always advised by well-wishers until you realize 5 years later you've only managed to wiggle your way through the door up to your knee and that you're doing the splits because you have your other limbs stuffed in other doors. We'll talk about the schizophrenia of this lifestyle later. It started with a big room of ~100 applicants assembled for a written test, which would narrow down the field for later in-person interviews. As we read over the cover sheet of what the position entailed, someone raised their hand and asked for clarification on a strangely worded sentence. The moderator's response: employees had to make themselves available for at least 20 hours a week, while no minimum hours were guaranteed. That person audibly rolled their eyes and walked out while the rest of us put our heads down and started the written test. Props to that person, but I guess no one else had the luxury of turning down a job with no guaranteed hours. Later I did a group interview with 4 other candidates and even later a one-on-one interview. To date, it's the longest and toughest hiring process I'd had to go through for any job, let alone an entry-level, zero-hours position. A couple weeks later I got a rejection letter in the mail. A couple months later after a similar hoop-jumping experience, I did eventually get hired as an auxiliary Library Assistant. For the past 5 years, whenever I'd Skype with my parents, my dad would always ask what's your schedule like or how much work are you getting? Eventually he learned to stop asking because I could never give a straight answer and the question was driving me crazy. The only regularity is irregularity.

Getting hired was the just first step. At orientation, the big question was how you go about getting hours. The answer is you become a door-to-door salesmen and "get your face out there". You've got a golden ticket into the factory, now you have to hustle for work. I cold called, cold e-mailed, wandered around to branch libraries giving out my phone number. I shouldn't have to point out how demoralizing this is as an "employee". Mass e-mails became the de facto method of finding out about shifts. You and other auxiliaries are pitted against each other in a mad scramble to reply within the first 2 minutes of receiving a call-out. Notably, this favoured those with smartphones or those who sat around at a computer all day. After hopping from branch to branch, I soon lucked into filling hours to cover a long-term disability, which kept getting extended indefinitely. I was basically working full-time hours at a single location (ideal!) and this amazingly lasted over two years. Two years of regular, full-time work that was not technically classified as "regular, full-time" work, meaning no benefits and no accrued seniority. Then I decided to go to library school and it was back into the auxiliary pool and back to hustling. All your colleagues sympathize because they've mostly gone through the same system until they got where they are, but some people never break out of it. I've met co-workers who've been auxiliary 5, 8, 10, 15 years and that scares me. I'm one year into auxiliary librarianship (five going back to my library assistant days) and I have another 5-10 years of this to look forward to? Or will I be auxiliary for life? I know I've already been bypassed on the ladder by later graduates with more out-going and go-getter personalities (see: resentment among auxiliaries. But no knocks against them, they're legitimately awesome people). I've given interview/job advice to people to help them get jobs since it's in my nature to have a sharing/collaborative, pay-it-forward philosophy, but it feels a lot like self-sabotage.

When you're hired as an auxiliary there's a tacit understanding you probably will, if you don't already, have another job to make up the shortfall. In the library world, a lot of us work in two or more separate library systems in multiple cities in the Lower Mainland. It's unusual here in that there are so many distinct library systems within a relatively small geographic area. Even though we're in unionized positions, the separate unions/systems mean we can and do willingly work around limits to hours worked in a day or week. Across multiple library systems, your potential hours of work are 7 days a week, morning/afternoon/night. It's a rare class of job where you can be both overworked and underworked simultaneously [**EDIT: as has been pointed out to me, this is not rare at all. That's just me with my libraryland blinders on].  You may be frequently work 40+ hours over a 7 day work week because the work calendar looks awfully blank three weeks down the line. I try to avoid it, but myself and others occasionally agree to work 4 hours at one library and scramble to another municipality's library for a 8 hour shift on the same day. Why? To keep all the plates spinning so one system doesn't forget about you. This fall, I was averaging 2-3 days off a month. Everything else just ran together into an amorphous "work month". On ostensible days off, there's always the looming threat of a phone call too. It's hard to say no to shifts because you might not be asked again.  Yeah, the system "works" in the sense that you can theoretically get lots of hours, as long as you accept as an auxiliary that when you're working someone else is not working.

On the flip-side, no guaranteed hours means you can virtually disappear for unpaid vacations at leisure. Don't feel like working? Turn off your phone. I've been at this so long, I've been conditioned to fear full-time when the opportunities have presented themselves. What's the big deal about dental plans? Extended health care? Paid sick leave? Paid vacation? What are these things and how do they work? A couple weeks ago I took a paid vacation for the first time in my life and felt guilty about it. Would these feelings change if I got a permanent, full-time job or would that just make me a lottery winner among colleagues? There's something broken at the systems in place here. I felt it when I moved here and it's lately come into sharp focus.  I don't know how, but morale among staff has actually dropped since I started and it was certainly at no high point then.

What does precarious work do to your brain? I used to joke that "Ha ha ha, I don't even know what day it is!" but now it's often a sad fact: "Um, what day is it today?". That's what happens when there's no distinction between a weekday and weekend. Everyday can be like the first day of a new job (with all the associated stress that would typically entail) with new faces and procedures to learn. Even within the same library system, individual branches have their own fiddly ways of doing things despite efforts to standardize things systemwide. You expend tremendous effort thing to get a grip on things, only for it to be yanked away since you may not be there for weeks or months and you'll have to do it all over again. You don't fully internalize the borrowing policies and hours of where you work because the where and what changes on a daily basis. The biggest public library system around here has about 20 branches (plus numerous departments at the main branch); other local systems have anywhere from one standalone library up to 9 branches. If you work in multiple systems, you could end up almost anywhere on any given day. You end up getting a orientation for each new branch you work at or re-orientation if you haven't been there in months. I imagine this ends up costing libraries more time/money than they realize when you've got hundreds of auxiliaries in a constant state of receiving orientations and branch tours. As an auxiliary librarian, you're put in a position where ironically you're the most senior person on staff: responsible for emergency responses, where fire extinguishers are, etc. Sometimes you even grow an anxiety over accepting shifts at new worksites. On one particularly challenging early shift as new librarian, I had a fire alarm, broken sliding door, and abandoned child to handle. Thankfully I was able to resolve these situations (following some panicky phone calls). Was it by the book? I don't know since I was still reading the book. Repeatedly going over procedures is a task often assigned to auxiliaries because a)you need it and b)you can't be given meaningful long-term projects.

You have to consciously prioritize whose names and faces to remember because you may see them tomorrow or never. I've met new colleagues and said "It's a pleasure to meet you and I'll never see you ever again!" as a joke, but I've seriously never seen them again. Auxiliaries suffer from isolation in the work place. You walk in, do your time, walk out. People don't really get to know you. This Christmas, I went to multiple staff Xmas parties. People thought I was just cynically doing "rounds" to put my face out there. I'd be lying if that wasn't partially true (which I hate), but it's hard being outside the team and out of the loop. If I didn't put in the effort, I wouldn't see work-friends or get a sense of any sort of workplace solidarity. This past year, I've started to become aware of my memory issues with names and faces. My mum told me someone from [public library in Alberta] said hi and that she used to work with me at [library in BC]. I had absolutely no idea who she was talking about, but they knew me. This has now sadly happened a couple times. I thought this was my brain's inevitable aging process, but then I also realized that at no point in my life have I ever been required to know so many names and faces. If I were to write down the names of everyone in libaryland I know by name, it's an epic list. At one system there are like 800 staff alone that you may be called upon to recall at any moment. Of course, no one actually expects this, but it's embarrassing the frequency of the whole "have we met?" conversations or "Hello… you." greetings we dole out. On my bike ride to work, I'd mentally try to remember anyone I might encounter at that particular branch that day. Another system: 4 branches, another 100 employees. It becomes difficult to create meaningful connections with colleagues, let alone patrons. My heart drops when a patron or child thanks me for something I did last week and I don't even recognize them. This is simply detrimental to the customer service ideals we espouse.

After all that doom and gloom, the truth is I like my job(s) a lot.  I've made it work for me.  The scary thing is that I know (or hope) that I'm in a relatively good and stable situation at the moment. I'm debt-free and my only dependent is a meowy cat. I'm working temporary full-time at one library plus a upcoming semi-regular gig on Saturdays, so I'm down to a 6-day work week (from 7-days, pre-December). But after May, who knows? I've got a healthy resume, lots of experience, skills/adaptability, feet in doors, toes in pools, thumbs in pies. All on the perhaps misguided belief that it'll all pan out. I can't help being a hopeless optimist.

When I left Alberta, I was working a 17.5hr part-time (obviously, just below the benefits cutoff) at a library I loved, but wasn't going anywhere. It was a emotionally a big deal the day I went to hand in my resignation letter. I wanted to give my assistant manager the heads up directly. I was super nervous going into her office, but when I announced the news her eyes lit up. She was thrilled and excited for me. She was in her last weeks before retirement and told me something I'll never forget (completely paraphrasing here): "The great machine will churn on without you, without me." I knew it was going to be this way before I decided to go into library school: comparatively low pay, slim job prospects. But I freakin' LOVE libraries. I believe in libraries. And sometimes I wish it went both ways.

September 19, 2011

The surprising entertainment of rugby

Over the past week or so I've suddenly found myself watching the Rugby World Cup (for the first time ever). As a Canadian, rugby isn't a sport that I've ever been interested in. During my travels in Europe in 2006 I was exposed to some high level rugby and came face-to-face with some of the players thanks to the connections of the friend I was traveling with. However, the sport didn't really grab me at the time. It was an awesome experience, but there isn't much exposure to rugby in Canada and so my curiosity soon faded upon returning home.

But now, left with the frustrating sports scene in North America with its constant commercials, big name players who are constantly injured, and where poor attitudes are the norm, my interest in rugby has returned. Plus, it's all available in HD and everything's better in HD!

Here are 3 reasons why I've realized that rugby is an awesome sport to watch:

1. Continuous play. It really doesn't seem to stop. International rugby is an 80 minute game that takes about 95 TOTAL minutes to play from the end of the National anthems to the final whistle. There are whistles constantly, but play resumes sometimes immediately and always within 30 seconds. Even if a player gets injured (which happens all the time...see point #3) a medic comes onto the field while everyone else continues to play around them. If a fight starts up between a couple players, they're left to fight while everyone else just keeps on playing. The fighters break it up pretty quickly since the play is continuing around them and they don't want to miss the action.

Not only does this result in continuous play, but it also results in less macho attitudes. If you wanna talk big you can't just hide behind the refs and trash talk. You actually have to back it up. This has been a huge frustration for me in the NHL and NFL, where both leagues seem to be filling up with idiots that find it easy to talk like big men because as soon as the going gets tough there are four to six refs that they can hide behind. Viewers are left with having to endure the whiny antics of these annoying, childish imbeciles. No such nonsense in rugby.

Oh, and continuous play also means no commercials until half time!!

2. Surprising athleticism. These boys are big, but they're not slow. I'm still learning all the rules of the game, but I'd say that on average the players are far more athletic than the average NFL player (emphasis on average... i.e. there are no giant fatties). It's also cool that several players have to be multi-talented. They are all specialists at their positions of course, but several players can kick, tackle and run; something not seen in football. No slackers in rugby.

3. No pads. Just men. Padding has been the worst thing to happen to North American sports. Sure, padding provides safety for the players and minimizes minor injuries like bruising and such, but playing contact sports without pads (or with minimal padding) adds to the game in so many ways. First of all it makes players play smarter. You can't just run/skate as fast as you can at a guy and crush him. You actually have to know how to hit him without injuring yourself. The NHL has problems with players skating around like they're invincible and the result is a lot of injuries. No such stupidity in rugby.

Second of all you don't have the problem of padding becoming overly protective for the hitter, and in turn, overly destructive for the hittee. Pads in the NHL and NFL are so big and hard that just getting tapped by someone's shoulder pad could give you a concussion. Surely someone out there has done a study on the average rate of concussions in contact sports and realized that the bigger and harder you make the equipment the more head injuries there are. This just seems like common sense! Please NHL, if you want to eliminate head injuries then change the pads!!

The result of these 3 things is that you end up with a really entertaining sport to watch. I don't even always know what's going on and it's still fun! Granted, I do like my sports and so am more easily entertained by them than the average joe.

It's just so refreshing to see a sport without diving, without whining, where there's tons of athleticism and a lot of character guys. Plus, when you watch the Canadians play there's a ton of pride. Those boys don't give up and that's always inspiring too.

Needless to say, I strongly recommend checking out the Rugby World Cup. It's on TSN and TSN2 all the time these days (in HD!!!). Check it.

June 17, 2011

White Stripes Covers week with Alex Robinson!

A couple years ago, I commissioned my favourite comic book artist/writer Alex Robinson to recreate the album cover of The White Stripes' Get Behind Me Satan using Jane and Stephen from his graphic opus Box Office Poison. Recently I decided to complete the set by commissioning the rest of The White Stripes albums with various characters from Alex's works subbing in for Jack and Meg White. All this week, Alex has been revealing a new illustration daily on his tumblr site and, as an added bonus, he's digitally coloured these including my original commission from 2 years back! Of course, I'll be getting the original drawings in the mail once I get back from London. I can't even express how ecstatic I am at the results and brilliant little details hidden within for the true White Stripes/Alex Robinson connoisseur-- namely me, ha ha!

I absolutely encourage you to check out Alex's comics: Box Office Poison, Tricked, Too Cool To Be Forgotten, A Kidnapped Santa Claus, and the mini Lower Regions (a sequel to which he's currently updating weekly as a webcomic). Thanks a zillion, Alex!

Take a peek below at the mashed-up cover art (in album chronology) and click the thumbnails to see the larger versions on Alex's site.

June 13, 2011

T-Minus 6 days to London!

Next Sunday I'm off to London, England for almost three weeks. I've been there a couple times before but always for just a couple days max on the way to/from Europe, so I've hit most of the main highlights but will now actually have time to breath and visit at a leisurely pace. I have a full page of scribbled notes (and then some) from a combination of guide books and blogs (mainly Londonist) where I scoured for unique things to see and places to go while I'm there. Here's my Top 10 of most anticipated things:

1. The BFI National Library
The driving force behind this entire trip is my two-week library school practicum to be completed at the British Film Institute National Library. I had been trying for months to secure a unique practicum experience that aligns with my personal interests and goals (there are not a heckuva lot of dedicated film libraries out there), so I was absolutely thrilled when I found out I was accepted for this stint at the BFI Library!

2. John Barry Memorial Concert
My obsession with the world of James Bond theme songs started in grade 7 when a school friend gave me a Best of James Bond 30th Anniversary CD for my birthday and little did he know how influential that would become in my developing music tastes. When I checked the London concert schedule (always a vacation must), I saw that there was to be a memorial for the late, great Bond composer John Barry who passed away in January. I knew I had to be there if at all possible. Barry composed 11 of the first 14 film scores for the Bond series from Dr. No through The Living Daylights, including the signature James Bond theme, a source of never-ending controversy (it's officially credited to Monty Norman, but it's supposedly Barry who transformed the arrangement into what we all know and love). But there's not doubt, the big brassy, lush sound that permeates the Bond series is all John Barry who, in addition to the actual film scores, co-wrote the classic themes to Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, just to name a few. It cost a sweet (money)penny to score a ticket to to this memorial concert at the Royal Albert Hall(!), which will feature Dame Shirley Bassey, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Dodd, and tributes by Sir Michael Caine, Sir George Martin, and Timothy Dalton, among others. Should be brilliant.

3. Canada Day in Trafalgar Square
I won't even have been gone two full weeks at this point, but in case I get homesick there's a big Canada Day celebration (reportedly the largest outside Canada) for Londoners and ex-pats in Trafalgar Square. The all-day event will include some sort of Visit Canada pavilion, a street hockey tournament, mounties, imported Tim Hortons, and presumably overpriced poutine. There will also be a number of musical performances from the likes of Oh My Darling, Alex Cuba, Lennie Gallant, and more. I'm excited to see former Philosopher King guitarist James Bryan (apparently now based in London) who will be performing with jazz singer Tammy Weis. Plus, the reliably excellent Blue Rodeo will be headlining. As if that's not enough CanCon, the next day The Barbican is hosting Canadian Blast: A Celebration of Canadian Sound and Vision with Devon Sproule, Chilly Gonzales, Mantler, Ryan Driver, Sandro Perri, The Hidden Cameras, and Woodpigeon. Some of that is ticketed but other performances (such as the awesome Maylee Todd!) will be free.

4. Free museums & galleries
One of the amazing things about London is the glut of free (or rather, by donation) world class museums and galleries. The National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery (way cooler than I expected last time I went), Tate Britain, Tate Modern, British Museum, Serpentine Gallery, and so on. I also just found out a couple days ago that the Andipa Gallery is also having an exhibition of Banksy works while I'm there. Again, free! Of course, if I'm bored I can go on a free scavenger hunt for Banksy street art that hasn't been painted over or removed.

5. Phantom of the Opera 2: Die Harder
Ok, so Andrew Lloyd Webber's 20+ years later sequel to the Phantom of the Opera opened last year to mixed reviews and, really, I haven't actually heard anything good OR bad about it (simply nothing). But I'm morbidly curious and loved the original musical. Of course, throw in half-price tickets from the tkts booth and I'm there!

6. You're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat Film Quiz
Over the past year, I've become enamored with the pub quiz tradition, which of course originates in the UK. They take things seriously over there (an estimated 22,000+ pubs have weekly quizzes), so I knew I wanted to take part and what better than an all-film pub quiz?!

7. Deathly Hallows, Part II world premiere
Yeah, I'm a bit of a nerd. It'll probably nutso busy (I've already read about people planning to camp out days in advance), but it'll be fun to see the spectacle, stars, and all that. The whole red carpet and all will be happening in and around Trafalgar Square. I'll be popping by after work, probably way too late but we'll see what happens.

8. Jamie Cullum Under the Bridge
Not long after my London dates were already confirmed, I caught word via Jamie Cullum's newsletter that he'd be playing an "intimate full band show" while I'd be there. At 2am on a Sunday, full details were announced and I was able to secure tickets to this late addition to the BluesFest London at the newly built Under the Bridge, a 600-capacity club under the Stamford Bridge stadium, home to Chelsea FC. Score!

9. Olympic Park
I am told there are free tours of the under construction Olympic Park. I'm particularly curious about Anish Kapoor's Orbit Tower (he also did the giant bean in Chicago).

10. London
Ah, who cares what I'll be doing. Knowing me, I'll simply be wandering the streets and riding the tube aimlessly until I stumble on something interesting. I'm in London!

May 13, 2011

Videoconferencing with The 654

Last night The 654 were messing around with a new simple way to do conference calls with up to 4 people: AV by AIM. No software to install, no accounts to sign up for. Just start a call and send a invite link to friends/family. Pretty slick!

And yes, we are all calling from within the same house.

April 8, 2011

My Favourite Oiler of the year: Ryan Jones

This year it really wasn't that hard to choose my favourite Oiler. There were only a couple in the running and Jonesy blew them away by much much more than a hair's width.

Some of the reasons Jonesy gets my vote:
  • He put up some very impressive stats. At the time of this writing (1 game to go) he has 18 goals and 7 assists on the season. I definitely did not expect those kinds of numbers coming into the season.
  • Not only does Jonesy score, he "gives'er" every night. Jonesy is a fantastic energy player. Going hard every shift and finishing all his hits. Showin' the kids how it's done.
  • The guy is hilarious on twitter (@jonesry28) and shows some real class (or maturity rather) compared to some other NHL players and most of his tweets are either good for a laugh or some inspiration.
  • Oh and he spends a lot of time on twitter talking about how much he loves Edmonton. It's so refreshing to hear an Oilers player genuinely mentioning how much he appreciates the city and the people. There's no question, he MUST be re-signed.
  • And of course there's the hair. I had no idea someone (who's not a hair model) could be so obsessed with their hair. I would say 50% of Jonesy's tweets are either about his hair, somebody else's hair or him replying to comments about his hair. Head & Shoulders please give this guy a contract!!
My hair has unintentionally become a tribute to Ryan Jones' hair. I was just growing it out for no real reason and then put on my hockey helmet the other day and realized I've got hockey hair! Sweet!

  • Speaking of contracts, there's been a lot of talk about re-signing Jones this summer and the Oilogosphere is trying to determine what he's worth. Does it really matter what we're paying him, guys? The Oilers must be well enough below the cap, they're not looking to sign any big name free agents in the next year and the young guys (i.e. H.O.P.E.) won't get any raises for another 3 years. So give him $2M a season if that's what it takes. Just make sure you sign him. This is not a guy we want to have leave town.
Thanks for the season Jonesy, hope to see you in the Copper and Blue next year!

April 3, 2011

The Youth Vote

#CanadaVotes #elxn41

During this election season quite a few of my friends have taken an initiative to try to drum up some interest in politics in the oft-underrepresented "youth" demographic. I've been trying to do so a little myself (and so has Rick Mercer!) and I've come to one major realization along the way: we're just talking to ourselves.

Those of us Canadian youth that have ever had an interest in politics are already caught up in all the election hoopla. We're studiously analyzing each party's platform, discussing opinions with whomever will listen, and of course, posting as much information on Facebook and Twitter as our friends can take.

But who else is actually paying attention? The only people who are reading those posts or clicking those links are those who are posting them themselves. When was the last time you posted a link on Facebook and it got your friends that don't follow politics to comment on it? Or how many times have you talked to a friend about politics and found out that they don't click on links for politics cause they just don't care? And they're not interested in caring. You can argue with them as much as you want about how important it is and how their vote makes a difference, but they will have none of it. We're not engaging these people and they're the ones who will make the difference in the polls.


It's a frustrating thing. So many people just don't care. It does have some merit. Canadian politics can be extremely dull. We're such a centrist country that nothing far out ever seems to happen. Canadians are quite contented with a little socialism and a little capitalism.

I confess that I get apathetic towards Canadian politics at times. It can be extremely frustrating to have so many important issues to deal with and nobody you can trust to deal with them. So I just take a break. I've been forced to have little faith in the words coming out of most politicians mouths after history has shown me that almost every word that people like Harper and Ignatieff speak is chock full of lies and exaggerations. (and hatred. What's with the hatred?)


A combination of ignorant apathy and boredom-induced apathy fills up most of Canada's political history. Right now, however, is NOT one of the times when Canadian politics is dull. Some historic events have taken place in Parliament in the last 5 years and they're events that should be riling up some mighty strong emotions for and against. This is no time for apathy.

I could easily digress into a rant about some of those "events" that have happened in Ottawa in the last five years, but I'll save that for another time. My point is that the only people "riled up" about politics are those who have never really been apathetic towards it. How can we engage the rest of the youth? What would it take to convince the youth of Canada to read an article about Harper's platform instead of one about Charlie Sheen's latest rant? Or watch a clip of Layton's public address instead of the latest hockey fight?


I've had a lot of trouble coming up with any good ideas to answer these questions. Hence this post. So I turn to you. I assume if you've read this far, you're kinda like me and want your friends to get into this election, to have an opinion and to express that opinion in the polls.

So what should we do, folks?


Here's a couple thoughts I've just come up with. It's only a start and doesn't solve the problem... yet. Give me a hand and leave a comment with your solutions.

1. Make an effort to talk to someone who has not shown interest in the election. Talking in person really allows both the listeners and speaker to be engaged. Unlike posting opinions online, there will be a real human response and corresponding emotion.

2. Explain why this election is important. Why are the decisions that are made going to affect them as an individual? At a glance party platforms often don't seem to affect me. I have to think about it and look a little deeper to see how it will.

3. Don't take sides right away. Don't approach the discussion with an agenda. If you start pressing your "left-wing, liberal" ideas to a neo-conservative you've immediately created a barrier that may be hard to climb over. The purpose of this conversation is to get all the youth thinking about what's happening in Ottawa and create their own opinions so that their vote can truly represent their values.
Of course, if the person clearly already has some opinions and has thought a little about their stance, then I wouldn't blame you for attempting to convert them. :)

4. Man, I'm already out of ideas! What else can we do?


So get into it.
Make SURE your message is getting to the targeted audience.
Engage the youth.
And of course, vote.

March 30, 2011

Pacific Rim Whale Fest

I just came back after attending a whale festival on Vancouver island and figured that this might be a good place to tell my friends and family what I got up to.

The Pacific Rim Whale Festival is an annual festival taking place in Ucluelet and Tofino, BC, Canada that celebrates everything whale. Well actually it's more like "everything Pacific coast". The focus is on the gray whale migration that passes along the coast every March as the gray whales head up from the warm waters of Mexico to the feeding gold mine that is the Pacific Alaskan coast. Several hundred whales pass by each year and as such it's one of the best times to go whale watching.

This year was the 25th Anniversary of the festival and was my first time heading up. I got a chance to do an educational talk about my thesis work on the filtration mechanics of lunge-feeding baleen whales, but my wife and I made a vacation out of it and stuck around for a few festival events too.

Anyways, let's make this easy and just run thru the day-to-day fun that my wife and I got up to.

Check out some of my pictures here.

We took off for Vancouver Island the day before the festival got started and actually got an early jump as my wife was home sick that day. It was an easy traveling day though, so I managed to get her in the car and we took off for Port Alberni where my in-laws live. The drive is always incredible on the way to Port Alberni and this relaxed drive finally gave us the opportunity to stop at Cathedral Grove. I highly recommend stopping there if you pass by. The temperate rainforest that surrounds you is simply magnificent.

We spent the day in Port Alberni and ended up going on a little nature walk here as well. The walk was actually pretty amazing considering we were within the city (town?) limits and yet felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. (Check out the pictures) In the late afternoon we made our way over to Ucluelet and checked into our hotel. And what a hotel! (Again, see the pictures) The Waters Edge Resort in Ucluelet was perfect. We had a one bedroom suite on the third floor overlooking the dock and the town. At night I took advantage of our brand new tripod and my new camera lens to capture some pictures that I never thought I could do! And while I took pictures of the port, my wife took in the private balcony jacuzzi that comes with each suite. Ya, pretty sweet deal.

A perfect, blue sky on a spectacular March day. We really couldn't have asked for better weather on this trip. The west coast is renowned for it endless cloudiness and frequent rain. We, however, got very little of that. After taking in a late breakfast we thought we should take advantage of this weather (it might not last long!) and do some outdoor activities. It started with some kayaking around the straight. The kayaks were free courtesy of the hotel so we did a little bit of island hopping and sea lion spotting. Hanging out on the water and just sitting still is a feeling that us city folk don't really get to experience much. The extent of silence that you can get when you're out on the water always impresses me. There's no background noise. No cars. No rumbling generators. No humming street lights. Nothing. Just silence. Ahhhhh....

Anyways, back to the adventure. We then headed off on some whale watching. Having studied the feeding mechanisms of whales for the last couple years, I had yet to see a free, live baleen whale. So this was the perfect chance. And sure enough we spotted a couple whales. We saw about 4-6 grey whales and 2 humpbacks. Plus some stellar and California sea lions. All in all a pretty jam packed 2.5 hour boat ride. We went with Jamie's Whaling and I would highly recommend it. Our guide, Scott, knew a fair amount about the whales and the coast in general. I like it when guides don't have to be prompted to give you information. Scott would just bring up interesting facts without prompting, but would still leave some times of quiet and peace.

So, alas I had seen some live whales!! I didn't manage to get any great pics, the whales were not to obliging on showing their backs let alone their whale tails or a full breach. Never the less, it still counts as a whale sighting if all you really see is the mist from the blow hole! The boat ride itself was worth the trip. We were on a small 20 foot zodiac, but man, that thing could really cook it. At some points we were just skimming the water and the guy behind me's clam chowder just wouldn't stay down. He was quick enough to hurl over the side though, so I stayed clean.

We took an early night as I wanted to get ready for my talk the next day. Just another evening of jacuzzi tubbing and fishing boat photographing.

The big day! I gave my talk at the Wickannish Interpretive Centre in Pacific Rim National Park. Almost half way between Ucluelet and Tofino. It was a beautiful setting with the interpretive centre sitting right on the beach (the southern tip of the famous Long Beach). At first it looked like my 11:30am Monday morning time-slot might have dissuaded anybody for coming, but by the time I started there were about 30 people in the crowd.

My talk seemed to go over well. I had a lot of questions at the end of it so that's always a good sign. The questions I got ranged from a 4 yr old getting her mum to ask whether Nemo really could have come out of the spout of a whale to someone (who must have been an engineer) commenting on pressure differentials and laminar versus turbulent flow. Thankfully I think my background abled me to address both questions. :)

After my talk we met up with some of Alys' relatives and had lunch at the beautiful Black Rock Resort in Ucluelet. Considering how posh the resort is, the restaurant was pretty reasonably priced (lunch anyways) and pretty tasty too.

The evening gave us the chance to attend Sweet Indulgence, the Whale Festival's all you can eat dessert event. It was held at the Ukee community centre and had a couple hundred people show up. And the desserts were tasty too! The people of Ucluelet really put a lot of effort into making tons of homemade desserts and we were able to eat until we couldn't take any more. There were also about 50 door prizes too, of which we won one (2 for 1 dessert!) and a pretty good live acoustic duo playing some original and some acoustic covers the whole evening.

Guess what we did later in the evening? That's right....jacuzzi and pictures! I guess it looks like I'm really into photography now! And my wife must be really into jacuzzis...

Our first rainy day. We woke up to rain and it didn't want to let up. So unfortunately we had to skip the last event we had planned to attend (a nature walk led by a professional photographer) and headed back up thru Port Alberni and back to Vancouver.

All-in-all this was an amazing trip and I definitely hope to be back to Ucluelet and Tofino for the Pacific Rim Whale Festival! Next time we'll have to do some surfing and some more hiking if we get weather like that again. If you ever get a chance to hit up the Whale Festival, don't pass it up. I guarantee it'll be worth it!

March 25, 2011

Three words for Harper's reign of terror

1. Contempt - first time EVER!


2. Prorogue - remember that?


3. Cats.

If these 3 words make you shiver, then show it in the polls.

March 6, 2011

A Day in the Life of Jaboo (in comic form!)

It was a random, dare I say serendipitous, confluence of events that led to me drawing a comic about my cat.

A few days ago as I was leaving for school, I unexpectedly found a mysterious bulky brown envelope propped up against the door. It was present for my cat Jaboo from the little girl who lives upstairs. She's about 5 or 6 years old and once left a scrawled note taped to the door saying Jaboo had been elected Mayor of Cat Town. I suspect when Jaboo's out gallivanting about he's actually just upstairs a lot of the time. Their family also has two cats. Anyway, this envelope contained two old margarine containers with kitty snacks inside. Adorably, the package had two previous attempts at writing "Here is a present for Jaboo" that were hastily scribbled out with the final message written on a piece of masking tape.

This was definitely worthy of some sort of thank you card and I had this niggling idea of making a comic after recently attending the Serendipity graphic novel conference (see last post). Say what you will about my scrappy drawings, but I've been reading more alternative comics over the past year and, uh, let's just say drawing skills are not a requirement for making comics (a point reiterated by the Serendipity panelists, even though they were all amazing artists anyway). During a workshop with Aaron Renier and Jason Shiga, we were shown by Shiga how to make a clever choose-your-own-adventure style comic, so I had a pre-made comic just waiting for the panels to be filled in. The comic folds every which way so it's hard to show how it works with any justice, but you might get a sense of how it unfolds in these photos:

Following the arrows, you essentially end up with a branching 5-panel story with four endings. Very cool.

Uh, keeping in mind the target audience, here's the comic presented linearly (without all the unfolding fun):

I gained a greater appreciation of cartoonists for the time, effort, and commitment in producing even a small amount of work. Drawing consistency is also not my forte as I more or less drew a different cat in every panel. A discerning eye may be even able to pick out the order in which these panels were drawn (as my enthusiasm progressively dwindled).