Bike: 0, Car: 1

Tonight I had another “adverse interaction” with a vehicle. Tonight, it was a car coming up a hill, negotiating an “S” curve … on the wrong side of the road.

The incident occurred at a curious place in Vancouver geography: W 8th Ave turns a 90 degree corner and becomes W 8th Ave. This occurs on the Off-Broadway bike route in Point Grey. The car I encountered cut the S-Curve so tightly that she nearly brushed the opposite side curb. On the map above, the green highlighting is the bike route, the blue line is roughly my path coming down the hill, and the black line is the car coming up the hill. I encountered the car after turning the corner, and had no where to go.

I had to do some emergency braking, pulling my feet out of the cleats, full front and back brakes, heading towards the curb. I managed to come to a stop safely out of the way, but it was close: the car came close, and because of my momentum, the back of the bike came up off the ground and swung around.

And, as I’m apt to do, I yelled. It was mostly free of vulgarities. Mostly. But it was loud. I have, if I do say so myself, a reasonably impressive “outside” voice. The driver rolled down her window and gave that infuriating Vancouver-esque wave of the hand that always happens when a driver does something stupid (cutting you off, running a red light) and then drove off.

I got back on my bike and the was flagged down by an upset resident of a nearby house. “Why am I so angry?” wondered the resident. He was pissed. I explained that 3000 lbs of steel and glass nearly turned my 180 lbs of flesh and blood into road grime. He wasn’t very impressed. “Life’s too short to get so angry” he noted.

Too short? Damned straight it is. And an irresponsible driver nearly made mine even shorter.

People who don’t commute daily on a bike just don’t get it. When a motorist goes the wrong way on a street, through a roundabout, treats a roundabout like a chicane, blows a stop sign, when a motorist does these things and nearly hits a cyclist because of doing that, there’s no question who comes out on the wrong side of that. And these things *literally* happen multiple times a week for me.

It gets to you. It gets personal. Every time something like that happens, it is someone threatening me with a dangerous weapon, from the comfort and security of their box of steel.

It is frustrating.

So, I think I have a right to get angry. I think I have a right to yell. First of all, it feels good venting. Second, it brings attention to the incident and I hope brings embarrassment to the motorist. Because, frankly, there’s absolutely no consequence for a motorist who “safely” drives a cyclist off the road. And third, I hope it makes an impression on the motorist that what they did was stupid, and noted, and maybe … just *maybe* they won’t do it again.

So, I will continue to get angry. I will continue to yell. I might try to temper the language a bit (there was a child within hearing range today). I feel I have every right to do this.

But maybe I’m off base. Let me know what you think in the comments.

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#elxn41 and the rules of engagement

On Monday, May 2nd 2011, Canadians will go to the polls for the fourth time in seven years.


In the last federal election, voter turnout was mere 59.1% of the electorate, the lowest voter turnout in Canadian history.

One of the reasons typically cited for such a low turnout is the increasing apathy of the “youth” vote.

This election, perhaps more so than any other election to date in Canada, has seen the rise of political jockeying in “social media”. The influence of social media — Facebook for the most part, but Twitter as well — is tough to measure in advance of the election. Even after the election, it’ll be tough to attribute anything directly to social media, but I’m willing to bet that any up-tick in the “youth” vote will be assigned to social media.

The small office that I work in is full of “young” people. All six full-time employees are under 40, including 2 guys under 30. On Friday five of us discussed the election and it was rather interesting. I’m a political junkie. I follow the news, the happenings in the House of Commons, and general am on top of things. Another of the “older” guys in the office is similar. Both of us are pretty aware of what happened prior to the election, and during.

The other three, the younger three, however are not so interested. Of those three, the youngest (mid-20s) is the most engaged. He didn’t know what was happening prior to the election, but when he noticed the ads TV, he felt it was his obligation to educate himself on the parties, the platforms, and the issues. I asked him about his friends, and he felt that about half of them were similarly engaged, and the other half was utterly apathetic. He mentioned seeing quite a bit of discussion on Facebook, even remarking that some of his friends had changed their profile pics to reflect their political leanings.

On the other extreme is a guy in his late 20s. Essentially the only way he knew about a federal election was because it’s something I talk about at work. He’s not really into social media, but mentioned that some of his friends have talked about the election on Facebook, but it really wasn’t a hot-button issue.

The third guy (early 30s) didn’t have much to add. He wasn’t really aware of the leaders or the parties’ platforms. He’s the sort of guy that will educate himself by Monday, at least enough to make an educated decision.

The thing that tied all three of these young guys together, though, was the CBC Vote Compass. All of them mentioned using it. All three of them mentioned that they found it interesting in exploring their own thoughts on various issues and seeing how they lined up against the platforms and positions of the various parties. Frankly, I found this pretty astounding. Something about this simple tool appealed to all of them, and I’m willing to bet that all three of them will consider their experiences with it when it comes to voting on Monday. And yes, all three of them will be voting, although all have them have voted in previous elections too.

So it comes down to engagement. How do you engage the “youth” vote? How do you reach them? Based on the small sample at my office they:

  • Don’t read newspapers. Heck, I don’t read newspapers anymore.
  • Don’t watch TV news.
  • Don’t listen to radio news.

But they do:

  • Spend time on Facebook.
  • Watch The Daily Show. This one is particularly odd. One of them said that if Canada had something like The Daily Show, they’d be all over it. When I pointed to “The Mercer Report”, the response was “Oh yeah! I like that … but don’t watch it.”
  • Watch things on YouTube.

It’s pretty obvious then, that if you want to reach this generation of voters, you MUST have a presence on the internet. Further than that, though, you must have some reason to get them to visit your site, or have them (or their friends) talk about you. If you solve the “where” to engage them, you still have to deal with the “how”.

And the how is perhaps even trickier. Of the three young guys, they all said to me that they were just not interested in politics. Their lives are good. They are all working at good-paying jobs. They’re healthy. They’re happy. As far as they’re concerned there’s no reason to pay attention to what’s happening in Ottawa — it’ll all work itself out anyway. As painful as that is to hear, and as hard it is not to start lecturing them on civic duty, being actively interested in the direction of the country, etc., it’s also hard to argue the point. There is no direct, personal issue that would cause them to pay attention.

There’s also the catch-22: They’re not interested in politics because as far as they’re concerned politicians never do what they say they will. The current government certainly hasn’t done anything to change that. But then they don’t pay attention to politics. So the only time they hear anything about politics is when something has gone sideways — some scandal or other. If the only thing you’re hearing is scandal after scandal, or at the very least a constant stream of negativity, where’s the motivation to pay any further attention?

At any rate, I think we’re starting to turn the corner a little bit. Social media may not be changing any minds, but it’s increasing the amount of conversation. The idea of “Vote Mobs” and filming student rallies for YouTube is great. If the election was held at a time when the universities were actually in class, I suspect that this effect would be even greater.

Regardless if you’re part of the “youth vote” or not, regardless of which party you support, regardless of your level of engagement: On Monday 2 May 2011, is YOUR chance to affect your future. Go vote.

For details on how, when, and where to vote, visit Elections Canada.

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Bike 0: Van: 1

Tonight, on my bicycle commute home from work, I was hit by a van. That’s it and its driver, below:



Now, let me be upfront: I wasn’t hurt, the bike wasn’t damaged.

However, the incident is typical of the sort of thing that I’ve encountered in 14 years of bike commuting in Vancouver.

This time it was above mentioned van going the wrong way through a traffic circle. The City of Vancouver uses traffic circles as traffic calming measures on bike routes and in other areas. A traffic circle is a small circle with a single lane that goes around it in the middle of an intersection, often used to replace 2-way or 4-way stops. Traffic circles are to be treated the same way as roundabouts: Slow down, yield to traffic already in the circle, yield to traffic to your right about to enter the circle, and enter the circle when you deem safe. Traffic flow is COUNTER-CLOCKWISE.

In my opinion, they are largely a failure when used on the bike routes. My experience is that most motorists speed through too fast, typically treating the traffic circle as a chicane. They almost never yield to traffic on their left, particularly cyclists. And occasionally they go the wrong way through the traffic circle. By occasionally, I mean that I typically see it at least once a week.

In short, I hate the traffic circles. They are only slightly less dangerous than 2-way stops on the bike routes where the cross-traffic has the stop signs. Those are dangerous because often motorists assume that the cyclists have stop signs too, and cross through the intersection while the bikes are bearing down on them at 30 kph.

This evening, it was a van. It was wet, but not particularly dark. I wear a bright orange jacket and had a strobe headlight and tail-light going because of the rain. The van was travelling north on Blenheim St in Kitsilano about to turn left on 8th Ave, which is the Off-Broadway bike route.

The van took the traffic circle reasonably slowly, thankfully. Unfortunately, he took the traffic circle in the wrong direction, choosing to turn left through the oncoming lane. Unfortunately I was in that oncoming lane.

Don't do this

I saw the van begin to take the illegal turn, hesitate, go a bit further and then come to a stop with me inches from its front bumper. By this point I had gone from “Oh no, he isn’t!” to letting out some reasonably offensive and not very creative expletives.

After looking at me, the driver did something that shocked me. He put his foot on the accelerator and proceeded to bump me out of the way with the van. He literally hit the front tire of my bike and used his vehicle to push me. I was shocked. And raging. My tirade continued and I slammed my left hand into his drivers-side window and rear window as he pushed me out of the way and drove by.

I couldn’t believe it. Shocked. The bike wasn’t damaged, I wasn’t hurt, but WHAT THE FUCK?

He pulled over to the curb on the north side of the street and got out of his van. And started coming towards me. After having just been assaulted with his vehicle, I wasn’t going to stick around to see what else he was going to do, so I got on my bike and headed down the bike route. I noticed a car that had pulled over and observed the whole thing. The driver, apparently seeing that I wasn’t hurt, drove off.

I hadn’t quite made it down another block when I decided to turn around and at least take a photo of the van and its license plate. As it happened, the driver was back in the van. He got out as I took the photo and started coming at me again. Again, given the fact that he’d already tried to drive over me, I put space between us. We were having a bit of a conversation at that point, mainly me venting at him.

And here it turned a bit surreal. Somehow we ended up reasonably close to each other and dude just wanted to talk. He apologized and seemed contrite. He was also clearly stupid, saying he tried to drive over me because he had no other option. What was he going to do? Back up into traffic? Not a word a lie, that was his reasoning. I don’t understand how backing up into non-existent traffic is worse than running over a cyclist.

And he didn’t like my language, tone, or the fact I had beat on his windows.

But he did say he was sorry. He apologized many times. He didn’t see me he said. He saw I had lights, bright jacket, etc, all his fault. He swore that he saw that he did something stupid and wasn’t going to do it again.

And, somehow, over the course of the 5 or so minutes we were talking, he managed to calm me down a few notches. We’d also drawn a bit of a looky-loo crowd.

In the end, I just drove off. Coursing with adrenaline, dripping wet, fury still coursing through my veins, but no longer leaking out of my mouth.

So. Motorists: Slow down, yield to traffic already in the circle, yield to traffic to your right about to enter the circle, and enter the circle when you deem safe. Traffic flow is COUNTER-CLOCKWISE.

Don’t be stupid. Next time, the cyclist you don’t see mightn’t be unhurt.

Some helpful links:

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Nuclear Fallout

(Updated 7:30am PDT, 16 March, included CBC videos)
(Updated 11:00pm PDT, 15 March, included MIT article)

A great tragedy is unfolding in Japan. However, despite what a lot of the mainstream media would have you think, that tragedy isn’t at the site of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex. The tragedy is the hundreds of thousands of people who are now homeless, hungry, and without clean water.

But we certainly hear about the troubles at Fukushima. In breathless tones, announcers tell us about the CRISIS and DISASTER that’s unfolding in northern Japan. The scary music comes on. Distraught and frightened people are shown, scared by the unknown and the spectre of nuclear fallout.

Lost in the din of all the WOO and emotion, however, are the voices of people that know what they’re talking about. And there are such voices. They don’t all agree on what’s going on, and most of that seems to be based on the paucity of good information coming from the site.

Some of the people tackling the issue head on include:
(Note the situation is fluid. These posts were linked on March 15th. Follow the root sites for up-to-date information and analysis)

An Engineer in DC

His latest post Summary of Fukushima tries to cut through what you’re hearing in the mainstream media and say in plain language what the situation seems to be, and what the consequences (and risks) are. Older blogs posts are incredibly informative on the various events (fires, explosions, etc) as well as the design of the reactors.

Bad Astronomy

Phil Plait is an astronomer, and a science advocate. He’s also a plain-spoken skeptic. The Bad Astronomer rails against WOO and misinformation at every turn (in addition to showing us awesome stuff about space). His take on the overreaction is a good read.


Evelyn Mervine is a geologist, a PhD candidate at MIT, and a skeptic. Her father is a nuclear engineer familiar and experienced with reactors in the US. She has published a series of interviews with Commander Mark L. Mervine, USN, that try to digest what has been reported in the news, and he answers questions from readers too. At the moment, there are four interviews: one, two, three, four.

Brave New Climate

Brave New Climate has its roots in the pro-nuclear energy lobby, but is an excellent source of technical information on the plants in question and interpreting the events associated with them. They have several posts on the technical details of the plants. Their most recent round-up tries to put even today’s “dire” news in context.

All Things Nuclear

All Things Nuclear leans the other way (anti-nuke), and is associated with the Union of Concerned Scientists which is a group that has a history using fear as a tactic. However, they also have some good articles on the subject.

Other sources

There are also some mainstream media elements trying to look through the confusion. Slate has a good article. So does the MSNBC Cosmic Log. NPR has a good article too.

(Added 7:30am PDT, 16 March) Lisa Johnson (@lisasj) pointed me to two very well done CBC Vancouver TV spots that explains the situation and its relevance to those of us here in Vancouver. First, second.

(Added 11:00pm PDT, 15 March) I stumbled on this article from MIT that talks about how the Fukushima incident could be viewed as a success story. Well, other than putting the backup generators in a place where they could be destroyed by a tsunami.

Don’t Panic

The takeaway message here is: Don’t Panic. This is not Chernobyl. This is not WWIII. You will not be affected by nuclear fallout. Unless you live very close to the complex, you are in no danger. Even the degree of danger for people close to the complex is a matter of some debate.

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Choosing a New Premier

BC politics are, well, they’re weird. In late 2010, both the main political parties in BC had their leaders resign. The ruling party, the BC Liberals, had their leader — and the Premier of the province for the past 10 years — resign in an effort to control the damage created by the replacement of the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) with the Harmonized Sales Tax. The HST has the same nominal tax rate as the GST and PST combined. A good deal of the BC public, however, objected to the manner the HST was introduced and called for blood. The writing was on the wall and eventually the Premier resigned.

You would think that this event would be a political windfall for the Opposition party, but they had their own problems. They were hobbled by an ineffective leader, internal division, and a lack of a political platform. These problems cumulated in the resignation of their leader only a short time after the resignation of the Premier. So, rather than being able to solidify their position and take advantage of the disarray of the governing party, they’ve become invisible and irrelevant.

To make matters worse, the NDP have set their leadership convention for April 2011, whereas the Liberals have theirs today at the end of February. This means that the Liberals are going to have a 90+ day lead to get themselves ready for the inevitable election that the new Premier will call.

Four contenders emerged from the BC Liberal Party ranks to vie for the leadership. Christy Clark, a former cabinet minister, deputy premier, and prior to the leadership campaign a radio talk-show host is the media darling and presumed front-runner. She, however, is not currently a sitting MLA. If she is elected leader, there will have to be a bye-election. Or a general election. And a general election will catch the NDP utterly disorganized.

Other contenders include Kevin Falcon, the young, smooth-talking business-oriented cabinet minister that has the backing of the majority of the current MLAs and business leaders. There is also Mike de Jong, the somewhat scrappy popular cabinet minister from the quite conservative Fraser Valley, and George Abbott, the very competent but very staid cabinet minister from the Interior of BC.

In the run up to the leadership vote, the Liberals ran a campaign to increase memberships. For a mere $10 you could join the BC Liberal party and be guaranteed the opportunity to vote for the next premier. Based on the behaviour of the BCNDP, it seems likely that the BC Liberals will be the governing the province for the foreseeable future. If that’s the case, the only chance the public has to directly be involved in the selection of the next premier is to join the party and participate in the vote.

Faced with this reality, I signed up for the BC Liberal Party on the last day that the membership was open. I’ve never belonged to a political party before, and I’m not sure how much I like it. I don’t want to feel beholden to any particular party — I prefer to evaluate each candidate and each party on their own merits. Depending on who has said what, my preference may change over time.

However, my reading of the tea leaves tells me that the NDP won’t be forming a government anytime soon. So, the only real chance that anyone will have at influencing the selection of the next premier is participating in the BC Liberal leadership race.

In the two weeks following the closure of the membership rolls, I received 54 emails from the candidates including 16 from each of the Falcon and Clark camps. Further, there were 22 phone calls made to my cell phone from the various campaigns. I won’t be upset to have the campaign over.

The leadership vote was yesterday. Voting was done either online or by phone. I opted for the online option, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. The process was simply a matter of entering the PIN that had been mailed to each eligible voter, jumping through a prove-you’re-human CAPTCHA hoop, and then selecting your preferences. The BC Liberal leadership vote was a preferential ballot. The four candidates were listed and you had to rank your preference for at least two of them. I ranked all four. After confirming your ranking, that was it! Voting took all of 2 minutes at our dining room table, in my pyjamas. So easy and convenient.

The preferential ballot was combined with a weighting system that gave candidates votes on a per-riding basis, not on a per-vote basis. So, all the first preference votes were tallied for each riding and votes were assigned to the candidates. If a candidate didn’t get 50%+1 of all the weighted votes, then the candidate with the lowest number of votes is dropped from the ballot. The 2nd choice for all those people who had the losing candidate as their 1st choice was then considered for the count of the “second” ballot. And so on, continuing to drop the lowest vote-earner until some candidate was preferred by 50%+1 of the eligible voters.

On Saturday, the vote went to three ballots. That is, since there were four candidates, two were dropped. The votes from people who supported these two were assigned to the remaining two based on the voter’s lower preferences.

My prediction for the vote was that it’d go to 3 ballots, dropping Mike de Jong on the first, George Abbott on the second, and Kevin Falcon would win on the third. It almost went that way, but Christy Clark ended up with the win on the 3rd ballot.

All in all, it was an interesting exercise in participatory democracy. In the end, the candidate I ranked last on my ballot won. I’m not surprised; I don’t think I’ve ever voted for a winner in any election.

It remains to be seen if Christy Clark will lead the BC Liberals to another term as government. I think it’s her game to lose, and from what I’ve seen in the leadership campaign, her charisma and personality will go a long way in rehabilitation the image and reputation of the BC Liberals.

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You Are Not Alone

A few days ago, Nancy Zimmerman (a Twitter pal) wrote a thought-provoking post titled “Art of Contentment: on being Single on Valentine‚Äôs Day“.

Part of what Nancy said deeply affected me:

And last, I have had enough life experience and enough married friends close to me that I get this primary truth: we are all fundamentally alone. Some people go through their alone-ness with a partner. Some of us go through our alone-ness with partner after partner. Some of us simply go through our alone-ness alone.

Alone by Arwen Abendstern

After reading the post, Nancy and I had a bit of an exchange on Twitter:

The idea that “we all die alone” struck a chord too. Imagine my surprise when the same quote came up again, this time on the TV show House.

That was probably a reference to a phrase widely credited (but I can’t find where the original may have been said) to Orson Welles:

We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.

So, rather than restrict myself to less-than-140-character snippets, I thought I’d expand on my thoughts a bit more here.

As I said to Nancy, I just don’t agree with this. At least, I can’t agree with the generalization. Which is to say that while I’m sure there are many people who are alone, and many people who are perfectly fine with that, there are also people who are NOT alone. In fact, it seems to me many people’s basic struggle through life is to be not alone.

“We die alone.” It’s the generalizations that aren’t.

Certainly, some people die alone. My grandmother died last year, after many years of living with an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s Disease. As she grew older, she outlived many friends and relatives. Due to her affliction, however, it didn’t much matter. The disease had taken her to a place where she was truly alone, unaware of many of the things around here, lost to whatever world her memories afforded her. She had family that cared for her, of course, who visited her, and who tried to provide comfort, but in the end and mostly due to the disease, she died alone.

On the other hand, some people don’t die alone. My mother also passed last year. She suffered for years from various aliments largely driven by an ovarian cancer that couldn’t be contained. The morning she died, she was not alone — she died in the arms of my father, and I’m certain that there was immense comfort in dealing with this last experience together. Similarly, after my mother died, my father was not alone. He was surrounded by family who care very much.

When Gwen and I moved to the West Coast we left behind friends and family. At times it can feel lonely, certainly. But we have each other. And now our own kids. And local friends. And although separated by distance, we still have our family. We might not see them as often as everyone would like, we know they’re there and think of us once and a while.

Being “alone” has nothing to due with independence or individualism. You can be your own person, do your own thing without being alone.

Perhaps the question of being “alone” has to do with what you mean by being alone. Consider all the people around you. There are the people you interact with on a daily basis. There are the people you interact with online. There are the people you see out and about in your community. There are your friends. Your close friends. There’s your extended family. There’s your immediate family. Brothers and sisters. Parents. Cousins. Husbands and wives. Children. With all these social interactions, all with their different levels of intimacy, who can be completely alone?

That’s not so say that some people don’t feel like they’re alone. I don’t intend to be dismissive of those feelings. And there are some people that do end up alone. Lost on the streets. Lost in their own heads. Lost to their families, lost to even themselves.

So it boils down to this: is it human nature to be drawn to people, to surround yourself with people that you care for and that care for you? Or is it innate to be isolationistic and introspective?

In the end, and at the risk of putting words in Nancy’s mouth, I think her point was that it’s fine to be without a romantic partner. Her post was, after all, about being “single” on Valentine’s Day. And, I agree with her. It’s perfectly fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. But I don’t think being “single” is necessarily the same as being alone.

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