April 27, 2007

Eugenics and Sterilization in Alberta 35 Years Later

Category: Academic,Edmonton,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 6:36 am

Eugenics is considered to be a technology and social practice of the past, swept away in our closest of all things ugly and bad. But the past is, in fact, quite recent, especially in the Alberta region in so far as forced sterilization was only outlawed in 1972–yes 1972.

If your physical body is here in Edmonton and are interested in the ways in which science and technology can has been placed on a truly “mad path” in the name of progress and how we are in danger of repeating the past via new genetic technologies, do check out this conference Eugenics and Sterilization in Alberta
35 Years Later

Free and open to the public, it kicks off tonight and continues all day tomorrow. The line-up of speakers is great and most important is that it includes talks by some of those who were caught by the very unfortunate web of eugenic laws.

April 1, 2007

The Joy of Weather, Writing, Music, and Software

Category: Academic,Canada,Edmonton,F/OSS,Tech — Biella @ 2:57 pm

Spring has arrived in many parts of North America. But in Edmonton, North America’s largest and most northernly city, spring has sort-of-come-but-not-really as it recedes fairly quickly. There will be a day of “explosive” warmth (you know, a balmy 45-55 F) and of course locals strip down to near nakedness, wearing shorts and, the more flamboyant will don an 80′s inspired cut-off tee. Hot. This sartorial statement says WE are SO ready for the long winter to leave … for good. Despite the collective sentiment, which is probably shared by 99.999999% of Edmonton’s inhabitants, the winter cold, snow, and breeze are indifferent to our deepest pleas and they come right back, making us sport at least a few layers of winter clothes.

Within this dance between winter breeze and spring warmth, I have spent most of my time staring at my computer doing everything possible to transform half-baked ideas, hunches, sentiments, and theories into coherent words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters for my book. I am working on it full-force and am enjoying it more than I have in a year though from time to time I get fed-up, lost, sick of it, and my writing soul descends back, deep into one of Dante’s infernal rings, where I fester with my frustration, convinced that I should have become an organic flower farmer/acupuncturist that I almost became (well not really, but I have always fancied that combination as an ideal and fulfilling career path). Slowly I usually make my way back up, brush off the cobwebs of despair, and proceed anew.

Within this highly secluded life of monastic-like repetition, thankfully, I have been enjoying some new things this spring. Once a week I head over to an University of Alberta off-site library facility to pour over archive material for a new project, which I am not going to talk about here (it is super-duper-top-secret) but it has been interesting working at an archive, especially one that is housed in an old Ikea.

Since I am one of those right-brained people, I like to listen to music while I work, and lately I have also become pretty obsessed with house & electronic music, mainly thanks to a local DJ, David Stone whose weekly radio show on CJSR, BPM, is simply the bomb. He claims to bring the “latest and greatest of electronic dance music from around the world” and I think he is totally right. If you like this type of music, do catch his weekly show on Sat nights at 6 PM (MST).

I sometimes get a little sad when I listen to some good music or see some stellar performance because it reminds me that what I may one day have to offer to the wider world—an academic book and article here and there—simply cannot bring the type of joy that musical performance and other creative expressions can bring. While you can listen to songs and over again, a book, if it is really superb, may attract a second or third reading. An academic book or article may at times light an inner light of joy, but let’s face it, it is usually a pretty cerebral light oh’ joy, leaving untouched those part of the brain, soul, heart, where more visceral, mysterious, yet fully self-enveloping feelings of joy reign high (but I am trying my hardest to stick a funny section or two in every chapter to leave a trace of laughter because if I can’t manage that with an ethnography on hackers, I will have failed miserably).

Every track David Stone plays is something I want to listen to over and over again and thanks to mplayer stream dump function, I can. And funny enough, is that in the last month software—believe it or not—has brought me much joy as of late. I have been using free software since 1997 and I used to get A LOT more annoyed—no make that a downright frustrated—with programs (or lack of programs) than I do now. In fact, now, I am simply stunned whenever I upgrade to a version of a program. For example, Word Press 2.0 is like so much nicer in terms of usability and functionality than 1.5. The same goes for Open Office, the Gimp, and even Firefox, which has some bugs, but is so much better than its predecessors.

I once described free software using the well-worn cliché as “the gift that keeps on giving.” And I think that this is becoming more and more true. And like wine, with the passing of time, these gifts usually get better and better. And like a unexpected present that arrives on your doorstep, these software packages induce some joy, because it is actually pretty neat to see these programs develop and grow into something stronger and more useful; so thanks to those who spend their time hacking away at making and improving this software and thanks to those (you know who you are) who helped with my recent WP upgrade!

March 2, 2007

On Edmonton, Place, and State of Mind

Category: Academic,Canada,Edmonton,Tech,Travel — Biella @ 8:10 am

Recently, I got a comment on an older blog post on Edmonton that basically agreed with another comment that Edmonton was so not the cat’s meow. Despite the winter and many months later, I guess I still do think it is, although in saying so, it is not I think their assessments are wrong, I think my take has as much to do as what has come before (like NJ, which was not the high point o my life), my experiences here, and what is to come in the future.

I tend to like Edmonton because there is enough stuff to do but not too much to do. It is that whole freedom from choice that I like because I often shut down in the face of too much choice. What also colors my experience in a positive light is that generally, Canadian politics, social policy, and way of life, are a step up or two (or maybe three) than that of the United States. So the worst of Canada (if you are even to call Edmonton that, which I would not), in this regard, beats out the best of the United States. And I have lived most of my life in the US so that is my point of comparison. Even if you are living in a fantastic American city, you always face the possibility of struggling in ways that will *never* happen in Canada. It makes for a calmer, less aggressive society. For example, I recently learned that Edmonton has the highest murder rate in Canada, at a whopping …. 36 people per year (population of Edmonton = 1 million). I grew up in a place, Puerto Rico where the yearly murder rate hovers at about 700-800 per year (population = 4 million). And yet people here are freaking out over the high rate of murder, which is a good thing because hopefully they can bring it down but this fact should make the US pause and think about what they are doing up north to keep the murder rate so darn low (and the answer I think is pretty easy to find).

But perhaps a lot of my love of the place has as much to do or more with my state of mind. After a grueling year of finishing a dissertation under pressure as I had deadline, and then living in NJ where I was on the job market (which meant spending so much time churning out application after application and then flying around interviews), in addition to flying 7 times in one year to visit my mom, my life here just feels so much more sane than it has been in years. What sealed it all was that right before I moved here in August I was lucky enough to be offered a permanent job (which means this summer I will be moving to NYC to join this department and I will be back to the land of overwhelming choice), so that for the first time in 5 years I did not have to apply for anything in the fall that would guarantee my livelihood for the next academic year. I was not faced with a year of lots of travel (and actually traveling in out out Edmonton is really one of my least favorite things). With that firmly in place, I could just concentrate on things like my work, my friends, brewing kombucha and do things routinely, like exercise, which I had not consistently done for years.

There are things about Edmonton that I find totally obnoxious like the cities inability to plow roads leaving a thick glaze of black ice on the roads so that when you drive in the city, you basically are at real risk for an accident (and this is despite a 6.6 BILLION government surplus). There are a tad too many strip malls in the outlaying areas, and of course there is the infamous winter. We are still deep in it. The cold temperatures have been with us steadily for months now and according to folks, there are still two more months to “look forward to.” The cold and the constant layering of clothes are getting to me a little, although I do appreciate that the cold is just not as cold as one would think with the actual temperatures. The lack of wind, the dry conditions, the cute as chubby-as-anything- bunnies that run through the snow, and the overpowering sun all help to make -6 F much more mild, so it is not as bad as you would or I would think it was.

So while I am thrilled to join the department where I am moving too, I will be sad when I leave, though perhaps not as sad as Edmontons “darling” hockey player, Ryan Smith, who was just traded by the Oilers to the NY Islanders. The day he left, he literally was shedding tears at the airport. And I have to say, even though I have no attachment to hockey, I found the pictures endearing because there is nothing like seeing a grown Canadian man cry over hockey! : )

November 29, 2006

The failure of an essential piece of technology

Category: Canada,Edmonton,Tech — Biella @ 8:47 am

A few days ago, as we were in the thick of a severe cold snap, I was thinking back to the time in Chicago when my heat went kaput and how miserable it was. And I thought to myself, “imagine if that happened here, that would *really* suck” but then comforted myself with the VERY false idea that such things can’t happen in Edmonton because surely they make heartier, sturdier heating systems.

Well last night I awoke to a cruel wake-up call that heating systems can fail here, there, anywhere. And to think that it is -17 F/-27 C outside. Please please, send the heating fixer upper SOON!

November 22, 2006

Hay Papito, que cold it is!

Category: Academic,Canada,Debian,Edmonton,Tech — Biella @ 6:50 pm

So it is hard to believe that in less than a month I will be somewhere, to be exact, Puerto Rico, that will be 80 degrees warmer than it is right now. And after weekend, it will be 100-105 degrees warmer. Yep, the cold (frikken) snap has arrived to Edmonton and it is preety intimidating. So long as there is no wind, it is tolerable but so long as there is some wind, it is unbearable. And I will park myself at home if that is the case. We were going to make a big trip to the mountains this weekend but with that type of weather, that may have been the end of me. And being that I think I am the only person in Edmonton from Puerto Rico…. that would be a shame.

And speaking of the RICO… WikiTravel has chosen La Isla del Encanto as the spot for the Wiki Travel Get-Together.

HAY Mamita y Papito, que HOT, as one would say… Evan Prodromou a.ka. MrBad, also a Debian developer, kick started the travelpedia and is going to be lucky enough to go.

I am not sure if I can make it but I hearby promise to provide a detailed “map” of where the travelpedias should venture as I know the really good goods.. And they range from the Nuyorican cafe in El Viejo San Juan to hitting a couple of beaches on the amazing island of Culebra, going to Pinones Sunday night to listen to Rumba and anyway the list goes ON AND ON… I will be inspired while baking in 86 degrees (as opposed to freezing in-20 of Edmonton) and will provide le map.

September 13, 2006

On E-Town

Category: Edmonton,Tech — Biella @ 3:07 pm

I am nearly done with the marathon move. After a small hold-up in Canadian customs (for no apparent reason except I got a border official who had incorporated the role, a full 110%), my stuff is here, unpacked, and in decent order.

In between unpacking, I have been able to experience some of Edmonton–from the nightlife to its administrative face (signing up for health insurance and a Social Insurance Numbers, for example, both of which were easy as cake) and I have to say E-town gets a far far far worse rap than it deserves. Ok, the weather is nothing to swoon over, and it is already getting far colder than I am used to but bracketing that detail, it is a pretty neat city. Now I tend to like the mid-size cities (Minneapolis, Madison, Philadelphia, Portland are some of my favorites in the U.S) over the mega-gargantuan-city and Edmonton fits this bill with just under a million people. And perhaps it is also just that I am digging some Canada-wide features (affordable and immediate health care, “licensed” cafes, a saner pace of life, the pleasant and earnest character of many folks) but there are Edmonton-specific attributes that are pretty nice too.

Before I get to them, it is worth noting that every time I have told people that I was going to Edmonton, they would either: 1) admit that they did not know exactly where it was and thus could offer no opinion whatsoever (and I was one of those folks until I looked on a map) or 2) blurted some negative reaction like: “do you really have to go there!” though most of those people had never been, but had a sense of its northernly location.

Perhaps my favorite reaction came from a blackberry forum where we posted a question about good data plans in Edmonton/Canada. Most of the replies stuck to the topic, but one person decided to spew his unadulterated thoughts on Edmonton:

i feel sorry for u going from NYC to Edmonton “Edmonton sucks” you’ll be happy to go back to NY..
You go from a city that has life to a dead one.. from having good bb plans to sh*ty ones..

hope your getting paid good

Ok, admittedly, the data/cell phone plans are lackluster but I think this person either has had some terrible times in Edmonton (and holds an unhealthy grudge), has never lived in NYC or has a warped sense of what the good life in a city means. Sure NYC is an amazing place, and is my likely future home, so I am not going to trash it but, like any city, it has its shortcomings.. like unfordable housing

But time will tell as to how I feel about Edmonton after the winter. Perhaps when it reaches freezing temperatures, it does turn a leaf, and become dead but then you hit the mountains, no? But for now I am digging the HUGE pine trees, rivers, and ample sun of E-town.