On Holiday

I’ve just started what may be my longest holiday of the year.  For five days I don’t have to go into work.  The thunderstorm was a good start…

Tomorrow the plan is to go to work… I have six action items to complete yet and I just determined my remote access is broken. Actually, I’ll get the guys to fix my account tomorrow morning.  One is writing a technical paper and I’ve just finished it.  I’ll post it tomorrow.  Three are working with my e-mail and meeting bookings and I can do that from home even without remote access.  One I can postpone.  And the last one requires a phone call to a vendor.  So going in shouldn’t be necessary and all in all should only take an hour tomorrow.

But I’m still going to see the work guys.  Tomorrow is Craig’s final day with the project.  We are doing lunch at the South Common Earl’s if anyone wants to crash.

And I’m still getting up at 6 am tomorrow morning.  I forgot to cancel my DATS ride.  Grr.  So I need to wake up and cancel that before rolling over and going back to sleep.

The big plan for the weekend is to go watch movies and the theatre, visit my parents and sit outside in the sun and read.  All fun and enjoyable activities.  Hopefully five days is enough time!

Weekly recap with madlibs

Help Todd recount his exciting adventures!

1) anachronistic adjective
2) electronic gadget
3) ancient landmark(s)
4) bad thing done among friends (verb past tense)
5) travel gear
6) drink type
7) useless clutter around the house
8) household chore
9) positive adjective
10) adjective for attractive woman
11) phrase meaning goodbye

Last week was (1)_____!

I gave Tim his birthday gift. He really likes his (2)______.

Friday night, I kicked butt at a game of (3)_____, but the game was placed under official protest. Apparently I (4)______.

Dave told a story about his woes with his new (5)_____. Poor Dave. It’ll all work next weekend. I promise.

I bought some of my favorite things on Saturday. Three bottles of (6)____ and five (7)_____. Yay! Thanks for the gift certificate that started the spree…

Finally on Sunday I did (8)____ and went to the movies. I saw x-men. The action was (9)_____ and the actresses were (10)_____.

(11)_____ dudes!

Day into Night – A review

When I went to the bookstore the other day a firefighter sold me a book.  Dave Hugelschaffer was the firefighter in Chapters selling and signing his book, Day Into Night.

CSI for forest firefighters was the one line pitch for the book.  Day Into Night is the first in a mystery series starring Porter Cassel as an Albertan ex-forest ranger and current fire investigator.

When the novel opens Cassel is haunted by the explosive death of his fiancee in an act of environmental terrorism aimed at the lumber industry some years ago.  She was the first human victim of the terrorist’s, Lorax’s, vendetta against equipment. The Lorax stopped his attacks for several years, but another piece of equipment and another life is taken as the book opens.  Cassel heads out and starts his own investigation in parallel to that of the of the RCMP.  But his life is complicated as the summer a serial arsonist is also setting fires to the tinder dry Albertan timber.  He needs to balance his off-hours vendetta for justice against the demands of his job.

I like the book.  I told my father I’d lend it to him if it was any good and I’ll do so.  I’ll come back to the positive points, but I have a few (read four 🙂 ) complaints with the novel.

The first is that the book is at its best when it is the closest to reality.  But the main events of the novel are set in two fictional towns: Curtain River and Fort Termination.  While these are a seeming melange of attributes from various small towns in Northern Alberta their fictional non-existence took me out of the story.  Against this are other scenes in Edmonton – K division, on Whyte Avenue, in WEM, etc. – that resonate with reality.  Had the Curtain River segments happened in Nordegg or Edson I think the same verisimilitude could have been brought to bear.

The second is the preponderance of coincidence.  Now, I was hasty to judge on this.  Seeming convenient coincidences are later explained quite well as the book progresses.  The largest is that when Porter steals a random fragment of equipment residue from a bomb site, one of thousands, it just happens to contain a valuable clue.  The second largest is that in taking a stroll through the wood, Porter just happens to encounter a highly suspicious masked, cammo-garbed, gun-toting stranger.

The third is the presence of some cliches.  In its whole the book is quite novel.  I’ve never read a mystery set in Alberta with characters acting like the Albertans I know before.  I’d never read a story about someone investigating forest fires.  That was cool!  So when the bad guy shoots with the accuracy of an Imperial Stormtrooper and the protagonist gets off on the wrong foot with the law those elements took me out of the story as well.

Finally, the book didn’t satisfy its high concept – CSI for forest firefighters.  In large part because the author, who seems to know his stuff, glossed over all the scientific/forensic details.  Cassel can track a fire thousands of hectares big to its point of origin, but we only get part of the explanation.  The forest rangers have metrics for grading the fire danger based on forest type, weather, dryness, etc., but the novel doesn’t explain those factors in any more details than the 6 o’clock news.  Nifty forensic analysis occurs, but it is often in RCMP labs to which Cassel isn’t allowed and he only gets the results.  This made me sad.

But, if the high concept had been that a Dashiell Hammett Continental Op type were as ex-forest ranger investigating an environmental terrorist it would have been more true and would have engaged my interest more!  And look that is what the book actually was.  I was disappointed about what I didn’t find in the book, but I was pretty happy with what I found instead.  Cassel is an excellent dogged investigator.  He goes and questions folks, he gets lied to, he investigates more and discovers the lie, he goes back an talks to the witnesses/suspects again and gets lied to.  He gets the crap kicked out of him, puts on his one bandage, flirts with the nurse and goes and sticks his nose into other peoples business again. When his friends, his enemies and the police all tell him to stop getting so obsessed he only becomes more so.  Really Porter Cassel is far more Jack Nicholson in Chinatown than William Peterson from CSI.

The other strength of the book is its portrayal of the Albertan north and wilderness.  The author doesn’t see everything with the same eyes I do, but they are a nifty alternate perspective.  The author is a person who has driven the roads, fought the fires, and drank in the bars.  That comes though very authentically and it fascinated me.

Finally, while the plot doesn’t contain any giant surprises it plays fairly with the reader and its predictability is the kind I like in a story.  The author is giving me just enough information that I’m figuring things out before Cassel.  The mystery structure is sound and the tension is nicely ratchetted up as the story continues and Cassel finds himself under siege from the bad guys and the police.  He even begins to look at his friends in a paranoid light.  It works very well.

I have a stack of other books to read, but ‘ll probably seek out the next Porter Cassel mystery before the summer is out.  The author signed my book, “To Todd, hope you enjoy the book.”  I certainly did.  Glad I took a chance at the bookstore.

Seatbelts

One of the interesting things about riding The DATS is the seatbelt system they use to fasten my scooter and I to the floor and the manner in which the drivers perform this task.

A DATS bus has round ports in the floor.  Typically there are four per spot for a wheelchair or scooter.  20 per normal bus.  When a seatbelt assembly is plugged into the port, the port acts as a clamp.  The seatbelt assemblies are pretty simple.  A round clip to plug into and around the port and a metal container containing the reel of seatbelt.  The seatbelt ends in a metal hook instead of the socket and buckle arrangement in a car.  The metal spool has a couple controls.  A button to release the seatbelt, a screw to crank the belt in tight and a hook on which to attach the lap belt assembly.

different drivers use them differently.  The long-time pros have the front clamps in place when you wheel on board.  They quickly attach the rear assemblies and pull the belts up and attach the hooks to the frame at the back.  Then they come and do the front.  Then they work the lap belt/shoulder belt assembly.  The whole process takes only a moment.  The gregarious ones chat as they do it.  The quiet ones just work quick except for asking for the passenger to raise their arms to funnel the lap/shoulder belt over the shoulder and under the arm.

Newer drivers will ask lots of questions.  Where is the best place to attach the hooks?  Does that look secure?  Is it comfortable enough while fussing with the belts.  The long-timers look to your comfort too, but it is simply and quick.  When the novices are done, I often rock the scooter a little bit to make sure the assemblies ratchet up the slack.

The two most complicated bits are the front belts and the lap/shoulder belt.        The shoulder belt is essentially the same as in a car, but at the start only one attachment is permanent in the vehicle – the one above your shoulder – instead of three.  The driver makes the other two attachments to the rear belt assemblies as he puts the belt over you.  First to the assembly closest to the wall.  The the belt is pulled across the body identically to attaching it in a car.  The only difference is instead of having a buckle the clicks into the floor mount on the other side, the belt goes all the way down and back and hooks to the assembly in the floor behind you.

Unattached it looks like a mess of hanging belts and clips, but even the novice drivers make sense of it in moments.

That isn’t the same as the front belt assembly attaching the scooter to the floor.  This works exactly the same as the rear assemblies, but there are two complications.  First there is no frame for the hooks to attach to.  The hooks can be pulled under the scooter and attached to the axle.  This isn’t perfect as they keep the scooter from rocking side to side, but the front end can easily rise going over a bump.  The more common option is to wrap them around the steering column at the floor of the scooter and fasten the two hooks to each other.  The drawback here is that the steering column housing is just plastic.  In an accident it would simply crack.

The other complication is that one of the front assemblies is invariably in  hard to reach corner formed by the bus wall, the seat, wheelchair or wall in front of me and the scooter itself.  The two assemblies on the inside of the bus are easy to reach in the hall.  The driver can walk behind the scoot to get those assemblies and attach the lap/shoulder belt.  But that trapped assembly can only be reached in three ways:  reach over my feet behind the steering column putting the driver’s head uncomfortably close to my lap, reach over the front of the steering column – only possible for the drivers with the longest arms, or – and this is the most fun for me – the driver stands on the stairway coming into the bus and reaches either over or under the little half-wall keeping me from driving into the stairwell.  To reach over the wall the driver needs to put one foot at the top of the stairs and the other hooked onto the stair ledge and under the half-wall with his or her heel hanging out into space while they reach over to the ground.

The easiest way to do it takes a tiny bit of prep.  Before I drive into position and trap the assembly, the driver takes the belt and pulls it up and latches it to the bottom of one of the windows.  Doing this allows most of the drivers to reach over the column without looking like stretch armstrong and grab the hook off the window casing or if they like to go over the half-wall they can often reach while standing on the stairs rather than the tiny ledge.  Then they hand the belt to me.  I hold it while they grab the easier front assembly and then we hook the two together.

Most drivers don’t ask for me help though.  I’m not sure why really.

The hardest way to do it is awesome to watch.  The driver reaches under the half-wall with one hand and it grabs the belt.  They reach over the wall with the other and pass the belt up.  Then they stand up and climb the stairs while holding the belt.  At the top of the stairs the half-wall is attached to the roof with a pole so they reach around the pool with the free hand and pass it again.   Finally they have to lift the belt over the steering column so it can wrap around and they can grab the other assembly and hook them together.  The process involves stretching, crouching, twisting and being careful on the stairs while not watching their feet.  If they are really unlucky the belt locks up while they are trying to pull it from the spool.  Then they need to go back to the beginning so they can reach under the half-wall and hit the switch the releases the spool.

The pros get all four belts and the lap/shoulder belt all attached in about a minute.  The less confident can take up to 5 minutes.  The worst time was the time I ran over my driver.  He asked me to back up so he could reach the trapped assembly.  He grabbed it and stood up.  I pulled in again, but he wasn’t up enough and I trapped the fleshy part of his arms between the half-wall and the basket of my scooter.  He dropped the belt and it cinched up again and then he went outside to curse at the pain and likely my carelessness.

There are almost an infinite number of variations on the motions folks go through to attach the belts.  Watching them act is part of the fun of riding the bus every day.

That took more explanation than I thought it would.

TTYL!

More Riot

A couple items on my earlier post…

First, I never wanted to imply that I was indemnifying the rioters of culpability for their actions.  Mob mentality or not, every one of them made their choices and should have to accept the consequences.

Second, the consequences need to be in line with the crimes.  The crimes are bad.  Over fifty businesses damaged plus the cars and other vandalism on the streets.  At least 150 people went to hospital, several in serious condition and one in critical condition.  Who knows how many people just suffered cuts and bruises and made their way home.  Then there comes the innocent people who were trapped in the crowd.  Those who were afraid.  The people who were in their stores trying to defend them from the rioters.  Those in their homes watching fires on the street and wondering if they could spread or their asthma or emphysema would cause problems due to the smoke.   Finally there are the intangibles like the harm to the reputation of Vancouver, to the reputation of the Canucks.

People need to be held to account for those crimes.

But they only need to be held account for those crimes.  These aren’t murderers.  They aren’t organized criminals.  They are a mirror of what we can be at our worst.

The Interwebs are good at organizing people into groups for a purpose.  Getting volunteers out to help clean up the town.  Getting people to identify people in pictures.  But they are even better about blowing hate out of proportion.  At their most harmless comic book guy and me just posts and registers our disgust throughout the world.  At their worst, they post addresses and families and create stalkers that threaten the welfare of the families of those stupid enough to be instigators.  That type of behavior is bad too.  I don’t know how to rank it against instigating a riot, but it certainly isn’t helping an old lady cross the street either.

GoT – Last Review

Called in sick to work today.  Grr.  Grr.  Feel guilty because I missed a non-day at work.  It was a Fun Day for team building.  To speak truthfully I hadn’t been looking forward to it.

Anyway, the last episode of Game of Thrones aired on Sunday.  It is over and y’all won’t need to hear me speak of it again until the new book comes out next month (July 12).

I thought it ended strongly.  Episode 9 (the previous) was the climax.  This episode had a lot of setup for next season.  In fact, although I haven’t checked yet, I think some of the early chapters of book two might have shown.  The next book is really set in King’s Landing and deals with the politics of that city even more than the first book.

Dany’s scenes were pretty close to perfect, but structure wise they still haven’t paid off after the fourth book.  Leading into season two she doesn’t have nearly as many good sections.

Robb isn’t as strong as I’d like.  He seemed more led by his vassals and mother than kingly.  The exchange with Theon was nice though.

As usual Tyrion, Baelish and Varys are the highlights and that was the case here.  I wonder if that is unfortunate.  In the books the kids are the main characters.  Tyrion, Ned and Catelyn are the only adult POV characters in the first book.  In the mini-series the kids are fine, but they just don’t have the presence of the adults.

Clash of Kings is a middle book and suffers the fate of middle books.  It is strong in the King’s landing bits, but in other areas it is less dynamic than Game of Thrones.

All told I think the Game of Thrones mini-series was decent.  Nothing close to the reaction I had to the book when it was released.  It needs a bit more action to hold attention on an episode by episode basis.  At 10 hours long it still simplifies some of the plot elements – although the character motivations seem just as complex.  The violence isn’t more or less extreme than the book demands.  But the sex scenes are far more distracting.  Funny that several of the added scenes are exposition of character elements with one particular prostitute in them.  Once for Theon, once for Baelish and once for Pycelle.  By the third time is is starting to look like a crutch.

OK – time to go.  Take care folks!