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Monthly Archives: July 2008

Walk Score: bringing math to walking


Janelle’s visit was a great opportunity to get out and explore my new neighbourhood — when I’m by myself, I have a tendency to sit on the sofa surrounded by my laptop, DVDs, books, guitar, Atari 2600, and other amusements. As, for instance, right now. But can you blame me? Those 900-page Nixon exegeses and compilation volumes of Y: The Last Man aren’t going to read themselves, you know. And who will listen to all those Spaced commentary tracks if I don’t? You? My neighbour, who’s name may be Frodo or something that sounds like Frodo? Don’t make me laugh. And yes, I know I’ve plugged Spaced a lot lately. That’s because it’s awesome and I want you to go out and buy or rent or borrow it already, so you can thank me for turning you onto it.

Hmmm… I got a little off-track. What I wanted to say was that even a boring homebody like myself needs to get out of the house and do stuff every once in a while, which was going to lead into a clever segue about this web site: Walk Score. Which is, itself, pretty clever. You give it an address, and it generates a “walkability” score that tries to give an idea of how easy it is to get around the area on foot. It’s based on research that having lots of nearby amenities is the strongest predictor of how much people will walk. Using Google Maps, it computes the distance from the location to each of a checklist of amenities like grocery stores and movie theatres and sums up the score to get a walkability rating from 0-100. Most of Manhattan scores in the high 90s. Sprawls like Charlotte and Jacksonville average in the 30s.

It’s not perfect — of the 12 amenities it checks, I actually have 10 within the “perfect score” distance of 400 meters (everything but a cinema and a bookstore), but it only finds 6 of them. And it ignores things like transit and climate. You can walk 400 meters through January snowdrifts in Regina (and I have, many, many times), but it isn’t really “walkable” in the sense that you feel like you’re enjoying any particular positive quality of life. Which is why most people don’t walks if they can help it. Which is probably why Regina is mostly low-density housing and big box stores. (Well, one of the reasons.)

But this is still a pretty cool tool for someone like me who makes a point — and self-righteously at times, I might add — of not having a car. When I was looking for an apartment back in May, I really started to appreciate just how important it was to me to be somewhere walkable. So important, in fact, that I confined my search to places I knew had everything I needed nearby. It worked out, but to be honest, I still feel like I totally lucked out to land an apartment I like in such a plum location. With this tool, I might have been able to expand my search, instead of just rejecting the entire East Side out of hand.

Haiku Factory Special International Guest Host Edition!

janjan.jpgSo, as I’ve mentioned before once or twice, Janelle has been visiting the past few weeks. Tonight she goes back to Australia to continue her studies, but before she catches her cross-Pacific flight, I asked her to blog some of her thoughts about Vancouver and her visit here. Which she’s not shy about revealing, in this, our very first Special International Guest Host edition of Haiku Factory.

  • “The most photographed landmark in Vancouver is the lame Gastown steam clock. It’s amazing that you have Gastown with all the rich tourists surrounded by the most depressing human wasteland. Vancouver has a huge homeless and drug problem – worse than anywhere else I have seen. I’ve literally seen people walk up to this invisible line and turn around and go back. I can’t blame them for that, you know. You don’t want to go there.”
  • “I love shopping in Vancouver. At first I found it difficult to find the things I wanted because it’s so hard to tell what places are good. I went to Zellers because Eric said it was cheap, so I thought it might be like Target at home (which I love), but it was just a junkyard! Yaargh! And then I went to The Bay and got a 15% discount on top of all the regular mark-downs just for being a tourist. Advertise that, man! Advertise that.”
  • “Eric moved to Main Street since the last time I was in Canada. Never have I eaten in so many restaurants in such a short period of time. I looove Nikkyu sushi, especially the deep-fried spicy tuna roll. Honourable mentions to Hawker’s Delight (yes! cheap and cheerful!), Nirvana, Zipang Sushi (mmmmm), Solly’s (for the bagels, not the service) and Bert’s (pancakes! also, bacon and maple syrup do go together!). Brickbats to the fact that my waistline is bigger now than when I arrived.” [Editor’s note: mine too. Sucks.]
  • “But most of the coffee was not to my liking at all — way too strong for my weak-ass Australian tastes. I miss a coffee that tastes like coffee, not freakin’ rocket fuel!” [Editor’s note: she’s specifically thinking of the Main St. Bean Around the World and JJ Beans. Thankfully there’s Salt Spring Coffee, which we both like. Usually. Unless the girl who only fills the cups up half way is there. That tends to set Janelle off.]
  • “Okay, now I have things to say about IGA (the local supermarket). At first, it was so hard to find things there. It felt like things weren’t sensibly organised. For a good part of my trip, I thought fresh noodles were not available except at T&T Supermarket. But then I found them — in the middle of the fruit and vegetable department. Makes sense, huh? I also found it a problem that there was not enough choice of brands. But not if you wanted chips — there’s plenty of flavours I’ve never heard of. ‘Mesquite’? Is that French for something?”
  • “Which brings me to an important subject: Canadian lollies [Editor’s note: ‘lollies’ = ‘candy’]. People, where is the choice!? For those of us that do not enjoy gummy lollies, there is nothing! And the shitty American chocolate… it’s terrible! I cannot wait to be standing in front of my entire aisle of confectionery in Australia. Gummies, be gone!”
  • “This trip, I could finally tell the difference between American and Canadian accents. No matter what you guys think, you really do say ‘aboot’ and ‘eh’. A lot. At least as much as I say ‘crikey’.”
  • “The drivers just stop for everybody. That’s fucked up.”
  • “I don’t want to be a whinger (will people know what that means? it means ‘whiney complainer’), so here come the positives about Vancouver. Pretty — gorgeous in fact. Friendly (it is!). People will talk to complete strangers and feel comfortable. Strolling the seawall would have to be one of my favourite ways to spend a sunny afternoon, and the fish and chips at Deep Cove, along with the scenery, are awesome. And I like Stanley Park, but not the racoons — they’re quite frightening. And I come from the land of sharks and numerous household pests that can kill you — like snakes, spiders, and crocs. I don’t like squirrels either. Rats with furry tails. I do love the big seagulls — they’re huge compared to the ones I’m used to. And the crows make a totally different sound here.”
  • “The streets around Main are so pretty — the trees everywhere overhanging the road. The houses are picturebook cute and painted all different colours. Just a lovely neighbourhood. And I liked that you can stroll at night and still have sunlight, even at 9 or 10 o’clock. Strange at first, but I soon got to love it.”
  • “Until the dark and frosty Canuck winter… this is Janelle, signing out.”

house-cleaning the blog: The Dark Knight! Hellboy II! Spaced!

As I’ve mentioned before, the lovely Janelle has been visiting these past few weeks, and updating this blog has somewhat fallen by the wayside. Still, I do try to keep things at least somewhat up-to-date, so that when I’m finally inspired to write something brilliant, I don’t have a backlog of bloggage to get through first and thereby forget what it was I wanted to say.

  • Saw The Dark Knight. Loved it as much as pretty much everyone else on the planet. It’s dark, brilliant and challenging. I’m finding more and more I appreciate movies with complex moral themes, and this film really delivers in its depiction of Batman and The Joker both trying and failing to impose their own simplistic ideals onto a Gotham that stubbornly refuses to choose either honour or corruption. Plus, the action scenes are spectacular, the acting superb and the cinematography and production design impeccable.
  • Also saw Niger Hellboy II, and while it’s no Dark Knight, it’s a lot more satisfying than the first Hellboy — kind of a light-hearted superhero version of Pan’s Labyrinth, with some of the most incredible creature design I’ve ever seen. After seeing this, I’m really glad it’s Del Toro who’s making the Hobbit movies.
  • My Caringbah Spaced DVD box set arrived yesterday, complete with tons of extras and commentary tracks. I really do believe we are in a Golden Age of television, and those first few Y2K-era shows, like Spaced and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were like the first shots across the bow of the old idiot-box mentality.
  • Since moving to my new apartment, I’ve made it a special project of mine to try out as many local restaurants as I can. And just between you and me, I’m doing so awesome at this mission that my pants barely fit. (And to think, I just recently met my 2008 weight-loss goal. *sigh*) I’ll be posting a round-up of my discoveries soonish. And then going on a diet.
  • And finally, don’t you love it when two great things come together? Werner Herzog dedicated his most recent film, Encounters at the End of the World to Roger Ebert, who wrote this open letter of appreciation in response. Both are people I admire tremendously, and have shaped my own ideas about art and life, and I find the letter quite touching.

Jeez, I’m being overwhelmingly positive and sincere, aren’t I? I promise more snark and hipper-than-thou posturing in future posts. Fret not. Or fret. Whatev. (See? I still gots it!)

What is it? — The Crispin Glover Road Show

what-is-it-poster-copy.jpgBeing the adventures of a young man whose principle interests are snails, salt, a pipe, and how to get home. As tormented by an hubristic, racist inner psyche.

Ah, crazy ol’ Crispin Hellion Glover. Portrayer of George McFly, near-decapitator of David Letterman, chronicler of clowns, and general surrealist-at-large. His 21st-century project of note is putting his Charlie’s Angels salary into making a trilogy of off-the-wall movies, and touring the world with them.

Actually, the show, which we saw at the Pacific Cinemateque last night, is somewhat more than that. It’s really three shows for the price of one — there’s a slide show (“The Big Slide Show”), the film, and a discussion with the audience. “The Big Slide Show” kicks the whole thing off. Glover showed and performed pages from eight books he had made by taking old books he had found and altered by editing the text and adding pictures and comments. The results varied from hilarious to profoundly disturbing and were the most flat-out entertaining part of the evening. In fact, I really dug them — to the point of thinking I’d like to do something like that myself. I’ve always liked the odd timeliness of old and forgotten ephemera and the idea of layering new things on top of old.

The second part of the show was a screening of the first part of his planned “IT” trilogy, What is it? This is a calculatedly strange and provocative film. Featuring a cast of mostly actors with Down’s Syndrome, a few monkey-headed porn actresses and the screams of Fairuza Balk, It is a piece of latter-day art-filmy surrealism. Unlike a hundred similar film-school projects, though, Glover is able to avoid the pitfalls of pretentiousness (or worse, tediousness) by injecting it with liberal doses of self-aware humour, technical skill and a strong — if not always obvious — vision.

The film was followed by a long — if sometimes rambling — Q & A. While the film is definitely surreal and experimental rather than narrative, Glover made it clear he is no obscurantist — in fact, he was pleasantly open and unpretentious. He talked about how he wanted to create something that would offend and provoke, and give people something to think about, as a kind of antidote to the unchallenging blandness of most modern cinema. To be honest, I think it’s great that he’s trying to do that, as well as personally engaging his audience with his live shows. He claims no plans to ever release this or the other “IT” movies on DVD, both because he wants to use the tour to recoup his production costs, and because he wants to prevent the films from losing the kind of context they get from having the creator accompany them on this kind of road show.

And seriously? This film needs that — What is it? is not a self-contained film so much as a jumping-off point for Crispin Glover to personally engage the audience. Without his exigesis it’s.. well, not a bad film, perhaps — but definitely an incomplete and unsatisfying one. With it, it’s a good night out that leaves you with plenty to chew over on the way home.

Wolf Parade rocks the Commodore

Wolf Parade rocks the Commodore, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Janelle and I took in Wolf Parade at the Commodore Ballroom last night. I’m not in love with either of Wolf Parade’s full-lengths, but I love individual tracks on each. And after seeing them perform, I think I’d happily pick up a live album. Several tracks I’d given only a cursory listen on my iPod jumped out when I watched them on stage, and they sounded really tight as a band. The only downer was keyboardist-vocalist Spencer Krug passive-aggressively taunting the crowd between tracks — apparently the sight of a sold-out Commodore Ballroom cheering and having a good time wasn’t enough. And people did, indeed, seem to be having a good time, even if Vancouver really does seem to be too insecure to dance at indie neo-prog-rock concerts.