Saturday, July 20, 2002

Northern Exposure: Wicky Wicky Wild Wild West

Week Beginning Monday May 13th 2002
I'm composing the majority of this update in a hotel room in Vancouver - the Delta Pinnacle - and I can see the head office of my new company from the window. I can also see Vancouver bay - all very nice.

What has happened over the last month?

My wing chung is going well, I'm working towards my orange belt. It has been good to get back into the swing of things, I've missed it (I took a break in the depths of winter). Of course this trip West means I'm going to miss another few lessons, plus next weekend is a long one - Victoria Day, I think.

Generally Canadians seem to get much less basic holiday than Europeans, but there's a statutory holiday just about every month. Still strange to go from 5 weeks holiday a year to just 3, but there you go.

Several weekends ago I ran my first 5km race! It was the Sorrentino's Garlic Fun Run, and I finished in 34m 04s, I'm quite proud of that. My first proper race! I did a fair bit of preparation beforehand, but not a whole load. The second lap around Hawrelak Park was really tough.
Finishing made it all worthwhile. Afterwards, we ate really stinky garlic pasta. A day later my calves were ok - stretching out after the run really helped. I may even have caught the running bug, I used to find distance running boring but my mindset has changed.

A few weeks ago I saw Spiderman. What a great film, a super hero tale that works, much better than Batman. Maybe perhaps because of Willem Defoe, who was excellent as the Green Goblin, especially when NOT in costume. Sure, the film had a few dodgy moments, script-wise (a dash of corn), and I understand it has the most mistakes of any film recently (clearly the true purpose of the internet), but it was a great action romp.

What made it even more enjoyable was the company - and I mean that two ways. The whole trip was arranged by BioWare, last time they did something like this was for Lord of the Rings, but THIS time they managed to block book the back four rows. We had to queue with everyone else (good fun, lots of screens playing old Spidey cartoons), but when we got inside we walked to the upper reaches where my lovely wife said, "Why yes, I do work for BioWare!". Man, that's still as cool today as it was over a year ago.

Anyway, we ended up near the back in the middle, surrounded by other like-minded geeks (trust me, its a mother lode there). It was quite cool to watch many people get turned away at the barriers (manned on both sides). Some people had a bit of a grumble, too, and we did check the forums in the morning to see if there was any "you suck because you stole the best seats" posts (none that we could find).

We also went to a talk and a signing by Terry Pratchett - now this is unusual, I thought, what is he doing in Edmonton, so far North? (he was on a Canadian tour, it seems). We heard about the potential Pratchett presentation through a guy at BioWare who knew a girl at
Greenwoods who were arranging the whole thing. They wanted to make sure enough people were interested before they arranged
his visit.

The day of the talk we grabbed a book each (there was talk of signings!) and got a taxi to the Provincial Museum of Alberta. The taxi was of course driven by a guy with road rage (to be honest, the first bad one I've had over here) but we made it in one piece. Despite having to explain to the driver that no, I hadn't seen the car in front fail to turn on the green filter light because sitting in the back as a paying customer I was unable to see the traffic signal.

We were a little early, so we got to see the really serious geeks with the multiple books, or the strange goth couple, or the rabid fantasy collectors. Soon the main doors were opened, and (because Canada is a civilised country that knows how to queue) we were fairly near the front. We realised that one of the books was dedicated from Sophia to me (shortly after we started going out) and we couldn't really ask him to sign it "love from Sophia... and Terry" (although perhaps "love from Terry and Sophia", maybe he wouldn't mind first place), so as the bookshop had a stand there we quickly grabbed a copy of "The Last Hero". In the queue with us was a university student, probably under twenty, who was an absolute delight. We'd ask her about the books ("who is your favourite character?" for example, or "what do you think of Rincewind?") and she would just gush excitedly about the question, how much she enjoys his books, and how she couldn't believe The Terry Pratchett was here in Edmonton. She really helped the time pass before the auditorium opened.

When it did we found ourselves right at the front, good seats. After an introduction from a local representative, the man himself took the stage. Unreal. Too cool. This is the guy who wrote the Discworld books. I reread them over the Christmas break when we were snowed in. I love those books. Clearly not as much as some people there. They scared me.

Terry did a little stand-up show, a talk about how he started doing what he does and how he keeps doing it. Very witty, wry observational humour, as you'd expect. Great fun. Cool stuff about being horizontally rich rather than vertically rich - the difference being how these days he can afford lots of books but has no pressing need to buy ski resorts. At the end, before the book signings, he asked for questions. I even got one of mine answered (the lame "do any of your characters run away from you?", heh).

Because we were one of the first in I thought we were going to be one of the last out, but for some reason we ended up in the middle of the queue. We saw our bouncy friend way ahead, and because of how the line was arranged we were right by the signing desk. As we shuffled along we became aware of the group just behind us. Ubergeeks. You know the kind. The type that smell slightly stale, and slightly of grease. The non-car kind of grease. Anyway, they were very loudly talking about different game systems, saying how a was better than b but D&D was better than a and b. There we were, several Neverwinter Nights programmers, testers, and their other halves, listening to these guys go on - "if I had a tower shield, and another one, and another - if I had four tower shields, and I made holes in them and used wire to tie them together, then I was inside them, and they had handles so I could lift them and move around (assuming a strength of at least 17), then I BET YOU my armor class would be really good". You get the idea. If only they knew what the BioWare people were working on.

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, we eventually made it to the front of the queue. It was pretty fantastic to meet Mr. Pratchett. He is very friendly to his fans, always happy to chat and sign.

Afterwards we were offered a lift back by some friends. Whilst we waited for them to finish up we noticed another set of geeks who were sitting in line of sight of Terry. They had noticed a guy in the line with a BioWare polo shirt on and chatted to him. He gave them his business card, and they were just showing it to each other and making "isn't this cool" noises. I just found it funny that they were doing this in sight of Terry Pratchett.

What made the whole thing even more surreal was how the week before a set of European journalists had been flown over to check out the new BioWare game, including Terry Pratchett's daughter, who writes for PC Zone magazine. Small world, eh?

Terry made mention of Neil Gaiman, another of my favourite authors. I just finished reading his latest book "American Gods". Very good stuff.

I rarely mention my vitiligo, but recently I signed up to a mailing list that I was last a member in 1996, I think I changed email accounts. It was good to sign up again to find out how others with vitiligo are doing. For those of you that don't know, vitiligo is why I have had grey hair since age 8, and why I never tan. It's what Michael Jackson has - he went through total depigmentation to not be so blotchy. Honest. No, really, he did. The nose job and other stuff wasn't related, mind you.

Anyway, I also saw a Chinese girl on the bus with vit a while back. It made me realise how lucky I actually am - despite all the teasing and bullying I had when I was younger. Her neck and chin were pure white while the rest of her was a nice golden colour. I'm just pale (understatement) with salt'n'pepper hair.

Hmm. I'm six foot, reasonably fit, need to lose a few pounds, have a lazy left eye 'cos I scratched my lens when I was born (so I'm told), have vitiligo, could develop LHON (Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy) , have a scar on my brow where I fell out of a bunkbed onto a toy fire engine. Oh, and a few years ago I went to the doctor and told him I thought I got plaster dust in my pores which was why I developed a rash - only to be told it was Shingles. It's a wonder I can get by on a day-to-day basis, isn't it?

We were going to see Attack of the Clones when it came out, but we heard there were no pre-booked tickets - you just had to turn up and try to buy them. A group of us went on the Sunday instead - it was still packed out, but a lot less hassle. No BioWare people to buy the cinema out, hehe. The film was really good, I enjoyed it a lot. Anakin was such a wuss though - he really could have been played by Harry Enfield as Kevin doing his "That's SO unfair!" bit. As Soph said, why would anyone want to fall in love with him? Still, huge jedi battles and Yoda kicking arse. Nice.

I'm getting rather worried about spring in Edmonton - before I came out here it was brown and horrid over there. The late winter snap (snow through April, VERY unusual) has caused all the plant life to slow down big time. Vancouver is just delightful though, green, glowing, gorgeous. All the flowers are out, the people walk the streets, very nice indeed.

My second night in Vancouver, I walked to Robson Street, the "Oxford Street" of Vancouver, and from there to Chinatown. I wandered all around the place, marvelling at how things in Canada seem to shut really early. I guess it's because there are only 17 million people living here, so there are maybe one or two fun places the night owls hang out. I ended up at an Earls on Robson street, where I had cedar planked chinook salmon with maple cider butter and asparagus - mmmm - when in BC, eat BC food.

On Wednesday evening once the course had finished I took a bus down Granville Road to Granville Island, a really funky little place connected to the mainland by a landbarbridge. I wandered around the island perimeter before checking out all the shops and markets on the interior. As I write this I'm sitting at a table in a pub / restaurant / bar called Bridges, sipping a Granville Island Pale Ale, waiting for my smoked duck pizza to arrive. I wonder if it was a Granville Island Duck? It is lovely here, checking out the boats, taking in the sea air, basking in the sunlight...


Thursday July 11th 2002
I'm just testing out my new foldable keyboard for the iPaq which is now technically a HP iPaq, not a Compaq iPaq, but I'm not fussy. Unfortunately it has an adapter, so it's not quite a self contained unit, but it does seem rather good for typing. Wheee! I shall enjoy taking this with me next week for my course in Vancouver!


Tuesday 16th July 20:10MST
Currently several thousand feet up in the air flying to Vancouver on a WestJet flight. One of the other guys from my company - and my current project - is sitting just behind me. I'm feeling a little off colour, maybe it's the heat. I went home early because of this, and fell asleep until I was woken by the door (good thing too, I didn't intend to sleep and I didn't want to miss my flight!). The person at the door was Leanne, a friend of our upstairs neighbour. I'd offered to courier something to Vancouver for her - a set of jewellery that she designed and created that was comissioned by a rather cool jewellery store on Robson Street. Pretty cool stuff.

I'm also taking some gifts for a friends ex-boyfriend. He moved to Vancouver for his residency, which I think is the last part before you become a real doctor. I gleaned this information from Dougie Howser M.D. some years ago. It'll be good to see him again - the ex-boyfriend, not Dougie Howser.

So, time for another recap. When I got back from Vancouver last time, I had this almost finished opus of an email pretty much done. I thought I'd be able to polish it off one evening and sent it out pronto, but then I got really busy at work. We were working on our Proof of Concept for the project we're doing - this is where you create something that does the major bits of what the final project should do, so it accesses the data and shows the functionality, but it's not the final system. It's to prove we understand what's required, and also that we can actually do it. It got rather hectic towards the end, and we has a mini-crunch time. Nothing like Sophias crunch time, mind you - I did pop in over the weekend, but I wasn't doing 9am to 11pm (at least) every single day for a month.

We got the proof of concept done, and then we started on the design work for the project. All very good. This course I'm going on will help, too - it's a new design methodology (whatever that means).

Oh yes, and Neverwinter Nights, the game Sophia was working on, got finished. They had a big push and got it out just in time. Everyone was really relieved and happy, and they spent ages signing boxes for various people and charities. The launch party was good fun too, it was farewell for some people because once the game was done they moved on to other companies or in some cases other countries. The party was also the last night Sophia was here before she flew off on her holiday.

They gave her two weeks extra holiday because the game shipped, over and above her normal amount (which is 15 days here in Canada, very odd after coming from a country where we both had 25!). She hasn't had a holiday since February of 2001, the poor thing, so I sent her off for a well deserved rest. Of course, I would have loved to join her, but I had just started my new job, needed to be there for the project, and
hadn't built up enough days yet.

Oh my word, someone on this flight is shuffling a deck of cards again and again, this is the third time I've been on a flight and have that happen, I really am going to snap one day and kill 'em with the ace of spades. IT'S SHUFFLED ALREADY! GAH!!

Sorry.

Anyway, Sophia flew with a friend to London, and spent a few days there with her family. She managed to see some friends around London, but didn't have a lot of time. She was bound for Mauritius, and the flights are a lot cheaper from London than from Edmonton. She's been there a while now, it's their equivalent of Winter (I think they're just south of the equator) but it's not the wet season. She's relaxing and enjoying herself lots, and while I can't wait for her to come back. I know this is just what she needs after all the hassle of crunch time.

While she has been away I've been sorting out our house like crazy. We live in a three bedroom basement suite, underneath a young couple with two lovely daughters (3 and 5, I think). He is a graphic artist at BioWare, she is an agent for improv comedy artistes, and they're really nice. We've got a large size front room, a good sized kitchen, a study (the computer room), a dressing room (the back bedroom) and our bedroom. Since our stuff arrived from the UK we've not really had time to sort it all out, so I have really gone to town, moving and mixing and sorting and throwing and all sorts of things. It's been very rewarding and I feel like I "own" everything again because I've touched it - if that makes sense. I hope Sophia likes what I've done, anyway.

This Stowaway Keyboard is working really well, most impressive. The adapter for the iPaq 3850 is a bit fiddly to use, but I think I'm getting the hang of it.


Tuesday 16th July 23:15PST
Whee! Just got back from a sports bar where the other member of the team and I had a few beers. Watching an old Buffy (the one where Xander and Cordy kiss for the first time, hehe). Fun stuff.

Okay back to the stories. You're really bored by all this aren't you?

I spent Canada Day wandering around Whyte Avenue (Soph was on holiday at this point), checking out the parades and generally soaking up the patriotic feeling. The only problem was the weather - it had been so dry over the past few days that the normal waterfall from the high level bridge was cancelled, and there were no fireworks allowed. So, instead, I had a nice lunch at O'Byrnes, that Irish pub on Whyte Avenue.

I passed my orange belt test for Wing Chun! We had to demonstrate attacks and counter-attacks, hammer fist (a Shaolin attack), and some Wing Chun kicks. It was good fun, and it feels great to be up another level! We started Monkey Form II, well I say "we", the rest of the class had done it for about three months. It was good to watch, which is all I could do after the first few moves!

Hmm Jay Leno is on tv now. He's got my hair and chin.

I found out that the St. Johns Ambulance are active in Canada - what with it being a Commonwealth and all - so I went along to an orientation event to volunteer. There's not really a "First Aid at Work" as there was in England, so being a volunteer is an ideal way to keep up my skills - and besides, I really like doing it. There was some confusion over my qualifications, just the conversion from England to Canada, but I think it's okay. Anyway, I've signed up with a unit that's really close to our house. I've been to a few meetings now, and they're just basic office stuff - who can attend what event, who is taking the minutes, that sort of thing. By doing this, I have to volunteer to do at least two events a month, and I'll have my 60 hours a year that I need (they count the meetings, y'see). The events range from antiques fairs to rock concerts, covering fun runs and hockey events too. I'm looking forward to my first event, which is a six pm to midnight shift for the Klondike Days.

Oh, the Klondike Days - this is a two week long festival in Edmonton to celebrate those days of yore where, I think, people from the area managed to persuade prospectors that there was a route through to the Yukon. So, for two weeks everyone gets gold rush fever, someone gets appointed as Klondike Kate and maraudes around with her posse (I SAID POSSE) and there are fairground rides and food of the world. We're going there to enjoy it, as well as doing some first aid shifts there.

Seeing as I'm on probation with them, I can't wear the official brigade shirt so instead I have a tabard. They insist on calling it a pinafore, but seriously, it's a tabard. I'm not going to wear a pinny.

Now, I know the history of the St. Johns Brigade, how they fought in the crusades but then stopped fighting and started fixing people. They have a religious history, but during the orientation it was clearly stated that they were multi-denominational. However, my unit has a prayer at the start of each meeting, and while I respect the history and traditions, I don't feel comfortable participating.


Wednesday 17th July 21:20
The course was good today, started slow but soon got brain-achey, heh. I got back from Gas Town earlier, the historic part of Vancouver. The other guy from the Edmonton branch took me to a really nice microbrewery called the Steam Works, I had a very nice steak and a couple of very good beers.

So, where were we? As well as the Klondike Days in July, I think August is the Fringe Festival too - lots of funky plays and shows around the Whyte Ave area. Soph did a few last year and really enjoyed them.

I was really happy when Neverwinter Nights was finished - I was a little cynical when it was being developed, but when I had a chance to play it I recaptured some of the feeling I had when I played D&D back at school. It was great fun to romp through dark passages with Sophia. Currently I'm playing a half-elven druid who has a badger as an animal companion, and Soph is an elven ranger. We have a henchman each too, so it's a good crowd. I love badgers, and mine really kicks arse. Yissing, his name is. I reached a level where I could transform into an animal of my choice, and after a while Sophia said "Hey you summoned another badger! Wait! YOU ARE A BADGER!", then she cracked up. Later one when she was checking a room for traps she came out to fine me chasing Yissing around my henchman. Hehehe. Great game, and not just
because of the badgers.

Ahh! Another thing I forgot! We've almost (so close!) almost got our new car! We've gone for a deal through my new work, and we're getting a nice new Ford Focus ZX5 - I like 'em. Anyway, we were almost ready to get them and then the agent mentioned how he'd need our Alberta Driving licenses. Ooops, we don't have one. I had to take my test again - and the first time I failed. Yup - I was doing really well then on the last stretch to the test centre I passed a cop by the side of the road, checked my speed, "yup, 60kph, just right" and once we got back the examiner told me a few minor things I could improve on and then explained how that stretch of road was 50kph, how he was worried that the cop might have pulled me over, and how a speeding violation was an automatic fail.

Gutted? Yes. Embarassed? Yes. Still, I told you about it, which takes the sting out. Oh, and during the test I was telling the guy how my dad was a driving instructor. The shame!

I booked the test again for as soon as I could. For both tests, I borrowed a car from our upstairs neighbours, and the second time I went out early to get the car only to find the battery was flat! ARGH! Always an adventure. We had to call a cab, they give people a boost for a small fee, and then I was on my way. The examiner turned up late, so the battery had a chance to recharge.

I passed the test with a perfect score, and you should have seen how carefully I kept to the speed limits throughout, hehe.

We've moved offices too. Well, basically we have another office a little further west of downtown (but still in downtown). There will be support and development staff here. Usually we do development at the client site, but sometimes they ask us to do it at our own offices. This just enables us to expand. The new location is almost exactly opposite where we live, just over the river. Because its so nice now, I'm cycling to work and back every day. The river valley is really steep, but I can cross the High Level Bridge so the gradient isn't that bad. There are still a few nasty hills though.


Thursday 18th July 22:20
Just got back from a restaurant in the Kitsilano area of Vancouver, down near the University of British Columbia. It was called Fatso's and they had a Thursday special on, nice blues / dixie style place. I went with our friends ex and some of her other friends. We had a good time.

Today I paid for my Scott eVest, which I got through my company with a special deal - they got 'em branded with the company logo. The jacket itself is fantastic, so many pockets for so many bits and bobs - the stowaway keyboard, the headphone, everything. It made going through airport security really easy - show and turn on the pocket pc and the mobile phone, then put the jacket through the xray machine, nice and simple.

The course was more difficult today, and promises to get even more complex tomorrow. We should finish early, though, and our flights back to Edmonton isn't 'til much later. I also confirmed that Soph flies in at midnight on Saturday, pretty late. I get most of Saturday to finish everything off, but still! I'm missing her loads, hehe.

Ah well, it's late now, I was watching Buffy as I wrote these last bits. That should be pretty much it for this big email, it's been a long time coming though, I'd apologise but I made you read it all, heh.


Friday 19th July 23:20MST
Woo hoo! I'm 20,000feet in the air on my flight back to Edmonton. The course finished early, around 16:30, and we got chatting to one of the ladies on the course about what we could do this evening. She knew a guy who had a micro-brewery, and who sold his wares through a bar a little way downtown. Clearly this was meant to be, so we wandered down to the place - Sorbeez - and had quite a few pints of Storm Brewery's India Pale Ale. Very nice indeed. I topped it off with a pint of Strongbow and a pint of Guinness (the cider was to be expected - not so good - and the stout was quite disappointing - a bit of a burnt taste to it, maybe sharing the pipes with something else), but my companion stayed with the IPA. After we finished, we popped back to our respective hotels which were keeping our bags for us, and got a taxi to the airport. After checking in for our flights, we had a few more pints at a bar before eventually turning up for our flight. I think I've drunk more in the past three days that I have in the past six months. Very nice.

We're starting our descent so it's almost time to turn this off and put it away - we're going to arrive around midnight, maybe a little earlier because the driver of this plane has got his schwerve on, but this is good training because Sophia's flight arrives late tomorrow. I'm preparing myself for a late night of unpacking. Hehe. I wonder if she got me any presents. I've already received the first set of things from her - english tea and english mustard and that luxury, Branston pickle. Yay!

Right, the seatbelt sign is on, time to put this away!


Saturday 20th July 21:20MST
Well I finished tidying up the house today. A friend went away to Sylvan Lake for the weekend, and lent us her car so I can pick up Sophia. She's landing in just over an hours time, I so can't wait! We chatted for a while last night online.

I'm going to end this off now, finally - it's taken a while! Sorry for the delay!
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