Monday, September 10, 2007

Orienteering, the Sport of the Athletic Geek

When I tell people that I orienteer, I usually get a quizzical look, followed by an admission that they might have done that back when they were a scout or something. It's not a sport that's well known in North America. There is, however, a small but obsessive community that practices this fringe sport. There are even national umbrella organizations in Canada and the US.

The sport originated in Scandinavia, somewhere around the the turn of the 20th century. It was adapted from what was originally a military exercise. To this day, people from the Scandinavian countries are the best at the sport, but lately other European countries have been giving them a run for their money.

The sport in it's simplest form is like a cross-country foot race, but with a course that is marked on a map, with control points that you must pass through on the way to the finish. The maps are special, with large scales ( 1:10000 or 1:15000). They are very detailed, and
are made specifically for the sport. Here comes the fun part; the course isn't marked anywhere (save for the start and finish ) except on the map. It is up to you to make your way, using any route you wish, to each control point on the map. Ideally you do this as fast as possible, using only map and compass, and that very powerful navigation computer behind your eyes. The control points are nothing but a three sided orange and white flag hung on the map features used as the controls. You use a pin punch or an electronic device called an SI stick to prove that you have found the control. The courses themselves can be a few kilometers for a beginner, to twenty+ kilometers for an elite orienteer, it all depends on how technically demanding the terrain is. You may have any number of controls on these courses, but most have between ten and twenty.

Orienteering is a demanding sport, both mentally and physically. It takes lots of practice and training to do this sport well. It is not enough to be a fast runner, you have to be able to think on your feet too! The trick is to run just fast enough that you can still navigate, but not so fast that your brain turns to mush from oxygen debt. To add insult to (sometimes) injury, most of the time you are not running on trails. You are running through the woods, over deadfall, through swamps, fording streams, across rocks, through the meadows, and climbing hills. This is not a sport for the faint of heart.

So who does this sport? well, in a word, GEEKS. We're all GEEKS, and most of us will admit it! In fact, most of us will take pride in it! Orienteers mostly tend to be people in highly technical occupations. You have a lot of scientists, engineers, and IT people. The sport tends to attract people that love solving puzzles. You may not have to be a rocket scientist to orienteer, but it sure helps! Orienteers are very obsessive about their sport, they think nothing of driving for ten hours to get to a meet. Most Orienteers will say that traveling to a meet is part of the fun of the sport. Orienteers from North America will plan their vacations around some of the larger events around the World. It doesn't matter where in the World you go, however, you will still find the same old geeks! ( but probably speaking a different language ) The demographics for orienteers are remarkably similar everywhere. Same geeks, wearing the same funny clothing. I once ran into an orienteer in New Zealand, who did almost the exact same thing I did ( I work at a local University designing and building weird shit for physicists!).

You may think, after reading all of this that orienteers care about the image of themselves and their sport. In fact, we do not care all that much because we are too busy having a good time. When it comes right down to it, orienteering is one helluva fun sport, and we all love doing it. It might be argued that we should make ourselves less eccentric in order to attract more juniors into the sport, but the kids in math class don't seem to mind!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

AirCare is a Joke

Recently I had to take my truck in to get Aircared before I could renew my insurance. Normally this is money that I grudgingly pay to make sure that I am not polluting the atmosphere. This is all fine and dandy, but in all the time I've had my truck, it has never failed this test ( I bought it new in 1999).

The only time I thought it would fail, it still passed, with a malfunctioning EGR sensor ( the truck's computer reported an error code for this and lit the "check engine" light ) I was able to check this myself with a lap top computer with special software and an OBD II interface box. My mechanic later charged me 300 bucks to diagnose and fix this problem. Air care only went so far as to advise me that I had an error code that corresponded to the EGR system, but I still passed!

This last time I went in, all they did was check the truck's computer and verify that there was nothing wrong, but still charged me 48 bucks. It used to be that they would do this test, and also stick the truck on a dynamometer and measure the exhaust gases under load. They don't do the dynamometer test anymore.

Like, whats the point? The vehicle's computer is easy to hack, anybody with a lap top and the right equipment can reset the OBD II error codes, but the dyno test can't be faked. Aircare has gone from something that had some merit ( even if the bar was set low ) to something that is just a joke.

Maybe it's just about the 48 bucks.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Vancouver's Bad News Bears

Looks like the bear scene in Vancouver is slowly dying. The BC Bears club has gone into hibernation, and who knows if we will ever see spring again.

There have been a few problems in the woods over the years, and I guess it all finally came to a head. Maybe burnout finally came to the people who have been trying to keep the club running all these years. Nobody would blame them.

I hope that the BC Bears will finally re-emerge from the den refreshed and restored, but I strongly doubt that this will happen.

The Vancubz will probably emerge as the sole bear club in Vancouver. This is a club whose membership is limited to bears who are younger than a certain age ( and their partners) which means that a lot of older bears can't join this club. Guess the old boys will have to resolve some of their differences if we're still going to have a bear club in Vancouver.
Street People, the Olympics, and the Downtown Eastside.

I have been following with interest Mayor Sam Sullivan's Project Civil City. Does he want to clean up the DTES? Does he want to move all of the street people out? Maybe he wants to re-open Riverview Hospital, or maybe just move them to New Westminster or Whalley. Is this just an initiative to make the DTES more palatable for the Olympics? I think not.

I was riding my bicycle through Yaletown the other day, and as I rode, I thought about what the whole area was like prior to Expo 86. It suddenly occurred to me that the DTES is gonna be the new Yaletown. It seems obvious now, but then it seemed like a bolt from the blue, I just hadn't thought about it that much.

Look at the people that are spearheading this project, Sam Sullivan and the NPA are just a front for the developer lobby. You also have lots of support from the the developer heavy Provincial Government, even an ex-attorney general ( Geoff Plant ) running the project. Developers such as Bob Rennie have even come out and said that they want to "Build from Main to Clark".

This is not a bad thing if it is done right, but everybody knows that the druggies, hookers, and street people aren't going to go without a fight. The Pivot Legal Society will fight it tooth and nail! Nobody is going to want to live there unless these people are gone, and the developers know this also. Just as Expo 86 was an excuse to clean up and develop Yaletown, so shall the Olympics be for the DTES.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Somebody's Torching My Neighbourhood!

If you have been following local ( Vancouver ) news lately, you will know that there have been a lot of suspicious fires lately in the Strathcona district in Vancouver. Naturally, this has got everybody who lives there ( including myself ) very nervous. We have had several serious fires in as many days. Luckily the Vancouver Fire department has their main station right in the 'hood, and have been able to quell the fires, with the possible exception of two unfinished houses at Prior and Gore that look like they went up like a bomb. People were thinking a street person might have done it, or someone resentful of the unaffordable houses being built there. By my account, that would make practically everyone in the DTES a suspect.
Vancouver's Real Estate Spin Doctors

I went to a movie at the queer film fest the other night ( Summer Storm ), over all, a very enjoyable experience. There was one thing that bothered me however, one of the sponsors of the film was this real-estate agent, and he was allowed to address the crowd and promote himself. Through out his spiel, it was all I could do to stop myself from heckling him! I really wanted to shout out: AND THERE ISN'T A BUBBLE, IS THERE!

As you may have gathered by now, I am a bear, especially when it comes to real estate. I am appalled at the myopia of the media in this town, especially when it comes to real-estate. The MSM in this town derive a good portion of their advertising revenues from the real-estate industry, and they consistently play down any notion that there might be some kind of real estate bubble. Maybe I am being a bit naive to think that the media should accurately report what is going on, but when I see banner headlines in
The Province that say Real-Estate is HOT, HOT, HOT, it makes me a bit sick.

I remember when I was a first-time buyer back in the early nineties in Victoria. This was when the last run-up and decline in real-estate ocurred. The psychology of the first-time buyer is a little delicate, and I was no exception. One tends to get a bit obsessive-compulsive about the whole thing, and it's all you think about until you actually go and buy a place. I recently saw myself mirrored in my partner, who caught this bug, and started spending a lot of time checking out the listings on the internet. Sure we eventually want to buy a house together, but not in this market. I found myself being a moderating influence. Like so many people say, there's always another bus.

With the MSM presenting such a distorted vision, its hard not to get caught up in the hype. You have to find sources of information with no agenda to promote, or those that present an alternative point of view. Fortunately, these are not too hard to find. Look here ( the mother of all Vancouver bubble blogs ) for a start, also check out magazines such as
The Economist. There is also some decent stuff put put out by the research divisions of the major Canadian Banks. Even the Globe and Mail has had a few things, but not really much pertaining to Vancouver.

I really do hope that real-estate does come in for a soft landing in this town, but I fear that this would be a best case scenario. I think this cycle probably has another year or so left in it. In any event, you won't find me holding my breath.

Friday, August 11, 2006

I had a pretty uneventful pride, did all the usual stuff, the parade etc. One thing I did do this year, that was totally new ( for me ) was go to the Odd Ball . I had heard that this was a good party, so I decided to go. What I found there did indeed live up to the hype, in the somewhat offbeat confines of the W.I.S.E hall, near Commercial Dr. There was a DJ spinning some pretty good tunes, a good mix of people having a good time, and wonder of wonders-nobody was throwing any 'tude!

I will be definitely checking this out next year.
Most of the Vancouver Frontrunners ( my running club ) just got back for the Out Games in Montreal, and with a fair haul of medals too. 'Seems I run with a fast crowd!
What is it with Gay community in Vancouver and nasty rumours? Earlier this week there were rumours circulating about the Davie Village Cafe, that were totally unfounded. I know everybody as some time or another has been a victim of a nasty rumour ( I know I have ), but it is especially bad when this sort of thing affects someone's livelihood. Some people will go to any length to impugn the reputation of others. There's definitely a nasty undercurrent to Gay life in this city.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Disturbing Trend #1082

What is it with cyclists using cell phones. In the last week or so, all around Vancouver, I have noticed cyclists talking into cell phones while riding their bikes!

People using cell phones while driving is bad enough, I daily have run-ins (hopefully not literaly, but a few very close shaves ) with people like that. I just seems that talking on a cell while riding a bike seems like... well suicidal. It's bad enough just keeping track of Vancouver's shitty drivers and all the crap and potholes in the road. To add a cell phone to that seems like sheer lunacy.
I know there is a shortage of construction workers in Vancouver, but it seems to me that there are too many closures of roads and paths downtown. The poor old seawall seems to have more detours in it than the Alaska highway after spring thaw. The slow pace of construction, with those interminable condo projects, and the convention centre work, have basically made a mess of the seawall. Will it ever end? You would have thought they would have figured out a workaround. Same goes for the Georgia st. viaduct, where it comes into Dunsmuir. They have had one lane on the viaduct closed for who-knows-how-long and lots of silly traffic pylons when you come into town. This seems to disrupt the traffic on the viaduct during morning rush hour, and it seems like it has been going on forever. Surely there are other ways to get trucks on the site without disrupting a major arterial. I guess as long as we have a developer oriented city council, we arn't going to see an improvement in things.