It’s a habit…

by Yule Heibel on April 4, 2005

Today is the day after the semi-annual Jet-lag Day — the “spring forward” version — and I suppose I need to wake up. Just a bit. Slowly. I’ll never understand why we have to do this to ourselves twice a year: it’s like jet-lag without the pleasure of being in a different place, it’s like having a piece of myself peeled off and re-attached somewhere else.

Different habits, habitually different, she thinks. Playing with demise, …as in: “How To Kill A Blog”.

I will make an effort to post more often — furtive efforts at resuscitation, she thinks. The problem is that, when I don’t post anything for a long time, it gets harder and harder to start up again. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder, it just makes it feel obliged to say something important or witty, but all I can think of is how busy I’ve been lately, how some of it has been very mundane yet time-consuming, how other bits of it have been very fun and interesting, but that there’s no way I can synthesise it into a riveting paragraph or two.

This is mundane: in this household, we have the habit of naming various electronic gadgets — in particular every computer — after characters created by Frank Baum, Arthur Clarke, Patricia Highsmith, Douglas Adams, and — for the minor role of house alarm — J.K. Rowling. “Sir Cadogan” is our alarm system, and yikes, has he ever been out of sorts lately. I need to explain that this house is the first I’ve ever lived in that actually had an alarm system, so he and we are still getting to know each other. The system came with the house, we live in a neighbourhood that has a fair [? what?!] share of “opportunity” crime, and having the system gives us a discount on the homeowners’ insurance.

And so we kept Sir Cadogan, even though he’s an incredible pain in the ass. Lately, he’s taken to reporting non-existing incidents to his superiors, who send out the security services (because Victoria police, by policy, no longer respond to house alarms), and the security company’s response in turn costs us $25 per visit. After a couple of these false alarms (which, it must be said, did always happen when we were actually all out of the house — something that happens rarely since we all work at home), the husband decided that this was getting too expensive. He called the alarm company and asked them to check the system — they had impugned our dog, claiming that he must have triggered the alarm. Given that you have to practically slap Sir Cadogan in the head to get his attention, it seemed improbable to us that little Jigger could have set the alarm off.

….Well, three (3!) working days later — with a weekend of unprotected Sir Cadoganism inbetween (live dangerously, kids!) — we are now supposedly securely alarmed. The technicians (three, in total) ended up replacing all the little brains of all the little sensors scattered about the place, plus the main brain of Sir Cadogan, plus the control unit in the basement, and — for the coup de grace — the smoke detector, which is also wired to the alarm system. It was an experience to spend Thursday, Friday, and Monday with various degrees of decibels and beeps and sirens and automated voices going off at unexpected intervals …and all for …what? Security? Nah. For the rebate on the home insurance. Cherchez la femme? Follow the money!

The annual Greater Victoria Performing Arts Festival is currently in full swing, and last Saturday I had the pleasure of hearing a child prodigy play piano at a Victoria Conservatory of Music noon hour concert. These concerts are free, and at this time of year they are loaded with senior Conservatory students preparing for their upcoming performances in the festival. I heard Oliver Aldort, who may still be 11 or perhaps has just turned 12, but who is at any rate a young child, and yet is without a doubt a musical prodigy. He’ll be playing piano and cello at various times throughout the Festival during the next couple of weeks. Admission to individual venues is $3, and a $15 program will get you into all the regular venues (excepting the final Awards Concerts held at the end of this month). Visiting Oliver’s website, I came across his mother’s website, too, and from there managed to find my way to all sorts of other interesting links, so that my weekend was spent virtually visiting the worlds of attachment parenting, the San Juan, and specifically Orcas, islands, various homeschooling links, and an interesting organisation called the alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children. I even found the website of our birthing method — the one that kept me from having a C-section: good old “Barnyard Bradley”! Without those classes, it’s a given that the son would have been delivered surgically, and perhaps the daughter would also have been. Because of Bradley and the great Bradley coach we had in Massachusetts, both kids were born without any intervention, at a birth centre, and the rest, as they say, is attachment history.

Karen Cho is a Canadian filmmaker of Chinese-English parentage, who made a movie, In the Shadow of Gold Mountain, about the Chinese in Canada. It was shown on CBC last January, but we don’t have tv, and therefore missed it. But luckily for us, a local jazz club is screening the film, and several university and city government officials will be in attendance to discuss issues afterwards. I’m looking forward to this. The daughter recently worked on a project where she learned about the horrendous trafficking of slave girls from China, sent here to work in brothels. But what she learned was that Chinese men were deprived of their wives by the Canadian government’s imposition of a racist “head tax”: by the early 20th century, the head tax on Chinese immigrants had gone up to $500 (which was roughly equivalent to two years’ wages), effectively making it impossible for the men already here to bring their families over. The prostitution that flourished — at the extreme expense of girls and women sold into slavery back in China — was a blackmarket circumvention of governmental restriction. I’ll be interested to hear the city councillors speak on that issue, too. At the same time, given Canadian curriculum’s baffling elision of the Shoah, the issue of how the Chinese were treated is not without relevance to the overall question of how Canada sees itself as a moral leader. When the film was shown in Winnipeg last December, the Jewish Tribune reported as follows:

In her message to those who attended, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson said, “Karen Cho’s film eloquently illustrates the personal and social consequences of exclusion and ostracism. The testimonials she has gathered shed light on the impact that the Head Tax and Exclusion Act had on the Chinese immigrants to Canada. Her film shows how this policy shaped the identity of individuals and the Chinese community for generations, as well as their resilience in the face of incredible obstacles. Fortunately, their descendents know a more inclusive Canada.”

Senator Vivienne Poy commended the film for “recounting the untold history of Canada, through the moving stories of those who lived in a time when the Canadian government practiced institutional discrimination against the Chinese community in the form of Head Tax and Exclusion.”

Manitoba Premier Gary Doer noted that the film “chronicles the unjust and painful experiences of thousands of Chinese immigrants to Canada and I am delighted that tonight’s screening is supported by a group of partners including B’nai Brith Canada, an organization with a proud history of educational and social programming.”

Sam Katz, Mayor of Winnipeg, expressed confidence that “this production will help educate and inform our citizens about our nation’s past. It is important that we take the time to learn about our mistakes, so we never endure them again.” [More…]

This weekend a local private school is hosting a Change Conference. Wait, back up: I should say that a student, Ben Rankin, who happens to attend that local private school, has organised this conference. We’ll get to see The Corporation (which is now available on dvd at your local movie rental place), and there are all-day workshops as well as groovy world music performances, but possibly most interesting of all, we’ll get to hear Stephen Lewis give a talk (with discussion).

And there you have it: the blogging knife has cut a piece from the giant messy bubbling pie that is my life, and presented a fleeting (and crumbling — gotta love those flaky crusts!) cross-section for general perusal. Yum-yum.


Stu Savory April 5, 2005 at 2:28 am

Hah! You do that too! We name a lot of our gear too. This PC for example is called “Fenris”, the M/C is called “Jambeau”, the car “Frodo”, whatever we were reading at the time of acquisition 🙂 So what other names do you have beside “Sir C.?” (The greek seductress??)


maria April 5, 2005 at 3:51 am

Semi-annual jet-lag day … that si the best definition of this silly ritual, really. Since I am in its full grip, I have nothing witty to add at this point, so let me just say that it’s nice to catch up with your life. And we name some of our gadgets too, especially the computers! Doug Adams has been a godfather to a few blinking and whirring things around our house, too!

Yule Heibel April 5, 2005 at 9:26 pm

Yeah, I think Douglas Adams has provided names for most of them at our house — we’re too prosaic, I guess, to come up with Fenris and Jambeau! There’s Marvin (of course), and Oz, and there used to be Osmond (sort of derived from Oz, but also to refer to “your other son, sire,” courtesy of Black Adder I (Edmund Blackadder’s father could never get his name straight, preferring to think that E. was a mistake…). But Sir Cadogan is the prime idiot…

I think we should call the main electrical switch box in the basement Feng Shui, however, or maybe Abracadabra, because of the weird electrical things that happen in this house all the time. There isn’t a single widget or gadget that, if it uses electricity, hasn’t gotten terribly excentric since coming into this house. Every single phone, the toaster oven, the computers, lights on timers, you name it. Poof! Bing! Whap! Each one has had some kind of stroke or seizure or unexplained absence of mind. I feel I should get someone with a dousing wand to make an assessment of possibly hidden currents here. Either that, or go fly a kite!

Stu Savory April 6, 2005 at 3:38 pm

Fenris of course was the monster in the form of a wolf in Norse mythology.
F.e.n.r.i.s was also an AI program I wrote back in the 80s (Frame-Enhanced Normalised-reasoning Inferencing System) which turned out to be a bit of a monster too; the more it learned the bigger it got and slowed down as the square of its size. Final estimated IQ, less than 3.

A Jambeau is a piece of armor for the lower leg, but also a pun on Jambo and on Yam-Beau, the motorcycle in question being a pretty Yamaha.

Frodo of course comes from the German/French word in the Alsace region for happy-water, i.e. alcohol (schnaps), something Tolkein didn’t mention to his readers 😉

Don’t get me started on Blackadder, one of my favourite Brit TV shows. A surprisingly large amount of their scripts were original Shakespeare too, in parts. BTW, the server in my previous company was called Baldrick 🙂


brian moffatt April 10, 2005 at 8:55 am

You have a name for your alarm system and other gadgets? I can barely remember the names of my kids and… what’s her name, my wife.

But odd you would mention the clock changing thing where – whatver that’s called – the whole world gains and or loses an hour. There must be something about Saskatchewan, something rational and sane about a people that choose not to do this to themselves.

Timeshifting has a way of obliterating your mind or the part that functions in the naming of things and the recognition of things by name.

Remember Henry Kissinger? Well of course you do. It always amazed me that he could work through the jet lag when he was working his diplomacy schtick – now there was a guy that was world weary, yet still had the capacity to articulate very well. The trick was this – he had developed a vocabulary that was completely internal, completely his own, and he could stand there, sleeping on his feet, and mumble on in a dream state and nobody caught on. I think this is what you have done – or perhaps, are now just beginning to do with with some dedication and seriousnes – with Sir Codigan and your other appliances.

Individuals who have the ability to tap into that ‘name reserve function’ do command a great deal of respect. And when that function fails – when you can no longer say with any sort of fluidity, please pass…the uh…the uh…the uh – the ketchup? Yeah, the ketchup. This is when you must step in and allow the the language to flow – please pass that most viscous red sauce – or whatever.

Yes. Time shifting does that to you.

So we needn’t restrict ourseleves to electronic devices. Gotta run, the midge Belleflower has awoken and she needs her mug o’sludge.

Kate S. April 13, 2005 at 2:13 am

I think it sounds like are rooming with a poltergeist. Perhaps one of gestalt. See if you can sign it up for the festival. Leave your Sir C. on sometime and see if it would blog for you!

You are so busy, I need to go take a nap now.

Yule Heibel April 17, 2005 at 8:35 pm

Brian, your Henry Kissinger riff is brilliant, thank you! Internal vocabulary: that explains a lot in Henry-Oh’s case, haha…

Kate, love the idea of Sir Cadogan blogging for me — I’d be happy, in fact, if he started by learning how to use the vacuum cleaner… 😉 !

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