• Andrew
  • Kurjata.ca


Wandering Pets, Happy Cities

April 17 2014 |

The long weekend is (nearly) here. Last weekend we got a start on prepping our yard for the summer, which included an hour plus of cleaning up after those two dogs in the picture up there. It also involved repairing our cat jail from the weight of winter, but it was a pretty minimal task: just going around and angling it upwards again. If you’re looking for a way to keep cats in your yard, this seems to be effective.

I get why people don’t want pets wandering around, but with the right group of people it can certainly help create a bit more of bond between strangers. When I was growing up, the neighbours across the street from us had a dog who could leap over their fence in a single bound. She only did this so she could go for walks with us, and eventually she became a joint dog with both families caring for her.

More recently, my parents have had a neighbourhood cat decide it lives with them part-time. They are not sure where it comes from, but it is definitely cared for- it just apparently likes to come over in the morning and get some extra pets. Eventually they’ll find out where it lives, and that will be how the ice is broken between them.

There are so many people I only know in the context of the dogs I see them walking in local parks, to the point that if we see each other say, grocery shopping, we identify each other by our dogs names. But it turns out these low-level bonds are an important part of creating happy cities. Who says? Charles Montgomery, the author of Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban DesignI heard him on this episode of Tapestry a few weeks ago, and immediately put his book on my reading list.

happy-city

At one point in the interview, he talks about what happened to him when he started walking around more and bumping into neighbours:

“Not having deep conversations, just ‘hello, how are you?’ It turns out these superficial conversations are really good for well-being. They’re much easier than the conversations we have with fellow employees and family sometimes.”

He goes much deeper into this concept in the book, but anecdotally I’ve definitely found it to be true. Stopping for a chat with someone while I bike, having brief conversations with the panhandlers near where I work, and knowing my neighbours in the contexts of their dogs have all added to a sense of connection and belonging in the spaces I spend my time.





tinyletter.com/akurjata




Off Mic

April 10 2014 |

on the air

Just over a year ago, I sat down in the host’s chair for the CBC Radio program Daybreak North. I’d already been working on the show in various roles since 2010, and more recently had filled in as host a couple of times when someone was away. So when there was an opening, I was asked to step in for a longer duration. Now that duration is coming to an end, and tomorrow is my last day as host.

This isn’t an unexpected change. In fact, the unexpected part is that I’ve been doing this so long. Initially, I was only going to be filling in for a few weeks. That few weeks turned into a few months and, ultimately, thirteen of them, almost to the day. It’s a bit of a complicated shuffle: we have a two-host show, with one person in Prince George and one in Prince Rupert, and there have been multiple bits of leave throughout. Suffice it to say my time on-air was always limited and has far exceeded my initial expectations.

Some people move into radio with the goal of getting on air. That was never me. I enjoyed (and enjoy) researching stories, finding leads, and putting together produced segments. I didn’t think I would have much fun coming in and reading scripts other people wrote, all while having half my work day taken up conducting interviews and reading weather.

But it’s an undeniably fun job and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of growing into the role. Doing an interview-based morning drive-time program, you have to be aware of many things at once: how much time is left? What’s happening on the roads? Do I sound relaxed? What question am I going to ask this guest next? Is it interesting to the listener? At the same time you’re thinking about your cadence, queuing up musical stings, communicating with the rest of your team, and a half-dozen other tasks. All while trying to sound spontaneous and effortless.

There is also a certain amount of celebrity that comes with being the voice on the airwaves. I’m not super in to being recognized, but it is gratifying when someone knows who you are and likes what you do. For better or worse, the person on air gets most of the credit for what gets heard. The fact that I am, even on a small scale, a “CBC personality” is something I still can’t quite wrap my head around.

That being said, there are things I don’t like. The hours, for one. Getting up before 4 in the morning is not something I’ve gotten used to even after this long. I never really settled into a rhythm and have consistently oscillated between napping, going to bed early and, more often than I’d like, simply functioning on five hours of sleep or less. This lack of sleep spills over into my eating habits, my exercise schedule, and my overall ability to be “with it” for the rest of the day. As the days get longer I’m already finding myself unable to get more than a few hours of sleep at night, and I can’t say I’m sorry to move back to working the day shift.

There are also things about being behind the scenes that I miss. There are dozens of ideas for stories I have that require more investigation than I have time for while hosting. I also have various bits of raw audio that I haven’t had time to flesh out into fully produced pieces. I look forward to being able to delve into these projects more.

I was asked recently whether I found it more rewarding to put together a well-timed, beautifully produced piece of radio or if I got more satisfaction out of improvising something live on-the-air. There is definitely a satisfaction that comes with being able to pull off something live- executing a challenging interview or chasing down a breaking news story- but in my heart of hearts I’m proudest of the work that took time for me to create. Maybe it’s just because I spend more time with them, but looking back over the past year I remember the segments that I edited and crafted far better than any of the live interviews I conducted, and I think of them more fondly. In part it’s because you’re only ever half of an interview- you’re dependent on the guest to bring something to the table- but in a produced piece you have the final say. If an interview is good, it’s part you and part the guest, but if a produced piece works it’s all about the choices you made. Or at least that’s how I feel.

The one thing I will miss about being on-air that can’t be replicated off mic is the relationship I have with the listener. As a radio fan, I’ve long known that audiences can develop a relationship with the hosts of their favourite programs, feeling like they actually know them. What I didn’t know is that this is a two-way street. Over the past year, I’ve gotten to know the people who listen to this show, and it really does feel like I’m saying goodbye to a group of friends. Through emails, phone calls, and office visits I’ve gotten to know the truckers, students, ship captains, construction workers, city councillors, musicians, bankers, lawyers, street cleaners, retirees and families who tune in every morning. I have family and friends throughout the province who know bits and pieces about what’s happening in my life simply because of a remark I made on-air. I’ve learned all sorts of things from grammar tips to weather patterns to hidden swimming holes thanks to people who would be total strangers if it weren’t for my time on-air. Ultimately, I work for a show that focuses on things I’m interested in, and so connecting with this audience is connecting with people who share many of the same passions. I’ve been connecting with my tribe for the two-and-half hours I’m on air every weekday morning, and I will genuinely miss that.

So what’s next? Well, back to where I was supposed to be all along. I am still in Prince George, still with CBC, and still working on Daybreak North. I will once again be an associate producer, tracking down stories, researching topics, and crafting the most compelling bits of radio I can. I hope you’ll tune in.

Note: this change happening at the same time as the equivalent of 657 positions are cut at CBC is entirely coincidental. I’ve known my time as a host was coming to an end for a long time, the news of today is completely unrelated. As for the future of both my job and CBC in northern B.C., I will direct you to these quotes from CBC management: “CBC/Radio-Canada will maintain its presence and news-gathering capabilities in the regions”, and “We will retain our presence where we are now.” For more information, see here and here.

Filed under: personal, radio | Discuss





Goodbye

April 3 2014 |

Death, apparently, gets easier.

Which isn’t to say it’s easy. It never is. Tears have been shed today. Full-body sadness. But even as it’s happening you recognize that this is one of the stages you go through towards getting better.

I’m probably writing in the third person to distance myself from the events. Let me be clear: this is my experience. I don’t pretend to speak for anyone else. But I imagine I’ll lapse into the universal rather than the personal tense again before this post is over.

Today, for the sixth time in five years, I’ve said goodbye to a pet. Nine times if you count those I bonded with who lived with other family members. I know that sounds like a high number, but it’s a combination of family pets from childhood getting old and the emotional toll that comes with rescuing abandoned animals, some of whom were abused, some who were on their last legs when previous owners gave up on them. We’re not a hospice, but we are definitely not having these guys come into our lives at a young age and in tip-top shape.

Look, I know: people lose worse. People lose family members. I’ve lost family members, though, blessedly, not immediate ones. Grief isn’t a zero sum game. There’s enough of it to go around.

Gus the ferret came to us five years ago. He came from a loving home, but his owner got a job long-haul trucking and couldn’t keep him or his sister. So they came to live with us. This was the first time I had ferrets. There’s a lot to learn.

We lived by the ocean at the time. Gus enjoyed going for walks out there. One time, he decided he would try to go for a swim, so we had to run out into the water after him. Another time he decided to go poking around the place we were renting and wedged himself between a lead pipe and 100 years worth of new walls, built layer upon layer of each other. It took a combination of power tools and olive oil, plus a full day’s work to get him out of that one. He was a lucky guy.

Some ferrets have trust issues. They don’t know how to play, and their reaction to people is to bite them and/or hide. Not Gus. He was basically the definition of happy-go-lucky. And he was tough, so that if some other animal decided to try and pick a fight, he could shut that down pretty quickly.

Not that he was ever aggressive. Just that he could stand up for himself. Which meant that when we would get a ferret with an attitude problem, Gus was our helper in rehabilitating them. He was friendly and playful and didn’t freak out if attacked- he would shut it down, then start playing again. If there was a ferret that was scared of everyone else, they would go with Gus and he would gain their trust. He was also our go-to for classroom demonstrations or information days– people who didn’t like ferrets for all the usual reasons people don’t like ferrets would like him. And he liked everyone else. Even our cats, who are the “don’t touch me” variety most of the time, found him tolerable.

4181837677_f1e2fd5c73_b 7378037220_cbdb1f0ed2_b 10105845245_6e586eea1a_z 4216518465_bb6f6b8d6d_b 4345010771_e10765ba35_b 4772_1157372143298_6539171_n

Last summer, we found out Gus had cancer. Cancer in a ferret is pretty much untreatable because of how small they are. It’s definitely a case of the treatment not necessarily being better than the disease.

We didn’t know how long he would last. He made it through the rest of the summer, then through Christmas. We thought he was on his last legs after that, but he rallied and kept on going. We had two “we don’t trust anyone” ferrets come in, and he helped turn them into affectionate adoptable pets. He just kept going.

Then he didn’t keep going. He lost his ability to walk, and stand, and most of his appetite. His breathing was laboured. He couldn’t sleep properly.

The hardest part about it was his spirit was still strong. You could see he wanted to walk around and explore, but physically couldn’t. We even had an appointment for him to be taken away peacefully, and then he rallied again. But just a little. Just for that day.

The decision to say goodbye is a tough one. Rationally, you know it’s time, but emotionally you’re holding out hope for a miracle. You do battle with yourself over what’s best for the pet, second-guess if you’re taking the easy way out, even though you don’t know whether it’d be easier to choose euthanasia or watch them slowly get weaker and weaker and weaker until they die a more painful death that you didn’t make an appointment for. Every time they raise their head on the drive to the vet you question if you’re doing the right thing, and every time they wheeze because they can’t breathe properly you wonder how long you’ve been making them suffer.

The decision to have a pet in your life is a decision to feel pain one day. Every time this happens I look at my other animals and think “I’m going to have to go through this again, soon.” And then you think of friends and family and loved ones and realize it’s going to get even worse.

And yet we keep letting people and pets and children and causes into our lives. We get married to people we can’t imagine life without, even though every love story ends with a loss. It’s inevitable. The only people who don’t lose their parents are the ones whose parents lose their children. Someone’s going to be the last in their circle of friends to keep on living.

All around us people have lost. Car crashes and miscarriages and escapes from war-torn countries and murders and suicides and, in the best case scenario, gone peacefully in the night. When you’re in the immediate aftermath of a loss, or at least when I am, the mere fact that the world continues to function despite all this sadness seems not only miraculous, but downright impossible.

But I’ve been down this road before. I know it heals. I already feel better than I did an hour ago, and by tomorrow I’ll probably be pretty close to normal. It’s quicker now, probably because I’m so practiced at it. I wonder if that’s the case for other people. I know many who have lost more than me.

I’m writing now, and without a filter, because having been here before I know that as it heals, you forget. You forget how precious it all is, how when you were saying goodbye you wished you had done more before, before you knew just how limited time was. But if you’re always sitting there remembering how limited time is, how do you function? How do you move on with the day thinking every moment you spend with someone could be the last? It’s all too crushing. So we put it off. We don’t say the things we want to say. We surf the internet and watch TV instead of picking up a phone and asking how your day was or taking a moment to remember how lucky we all are to be here. How lucky we are to have each other in our lives.

We don’t think about it because this isn’t the last time. Not this one.

We’ll see you again.

Right?

Filed under: Best Of, personal





confluence → 

March 29 2014 |

I’m doing the newsletter now. I like it.




I’m sorry, @jamiebell

March 24 2014 |

So a week ago the Prince George musician Jamie Bell posted this message on Facebook:

“After years of getting tweets directed at the actor Jamie Bell, it looks like I might finally have a way out! (I’ve got @jamiebell, he’s got @1jamiebell)”

Along with it was a screenshot of the actor Jamie Bell (star of Billy Elliot and the upcoming Fantastic Four, among other things) asking:

“Ok, how much do you want for it?”

jamie-bell-vs-jamie-bell

I thought this might make for a fun interview on Daybreak North, and Jamie was game, so on Friday morning and we had a fun little discussion about it.

I thought that would be it. But to quote ViralNova, what happened next blew my mind…

The interview went international on CBC’s As It Happens. It went up on cbc.ca. It went up on the Huffington Post. Basically, it went viral.

@jamiebell on As It Happens

http://andrewkurjata.ca/wp-content/uploads/@jamiebell-on-as-it-happens.mp3

Meanwhile, the man who really started this all- @1jamiebell- is just acting like it never happened.

And @jamiebell_ is floating along pretty obliviously, too.

This is proof that you can never predict what will go viral. In all honestly, I wasn’t sure it would get picked up for Daybreak. It was my third pitch, and it was basically “This MIGHT be something….?”

I guess it was.

Fortunately, Jamie Bell the musician is taking it in stride. Hopefully all this attention gets more attention for his music, of which I am a big fan. He just released this teaser for an album from the Cutest Band Ever.

By the way, I just launched a newsletter. The next edition will have some more updates about Jamie Bell the musician, as well as other northern B.C. music news and some other things. If you’re interested, enter your email address below:




on community

March 22 2014 |

downtown

I learned a new word recently. “Psychogeography”, as it was explained on this episode of 99% Invisible, is a method of wayfinding using emotions and memories. I immediately Googled it and found alternative definitions that don’t resonate with me in the same way, so much like I did with the word “Kiez,” I’m creating my own interpretation.

I have on my coffee table the debut issue of a new publication called Dreamland. In his opening note, the publisher and poet Jeremy Stewart asks, “Isn’t it good to do community in this way?” Elsewhere I seem to remember him writing that community is a group of people who come together to do something rather than nothing. I have no idea if he actually wrote this, but it’s in my head now and it’s informing the way I think about the world.

The launch of Dreamland was at Page Boy Books, a new store down on 4th Avenue. It has nice wooden furniture, a big display window, and shelves full of well-kept used books. It wasn’t there and now it is. And if it’s still there a year from now it will be because it has a community around it. Amazon is fast and cheap but it doesn’t open on Friday night to help launch a self-published magazine with poetry readings and tea.

I spent last Saturday walking around a one-block radius of downtown. It took over two hours. Every store I went into was a physical manifestation of a community: coffee-lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, crafters, gamers, and supporters of local food. These places do not exist out of mere function, there is a passion behind them, on both sides of the cash register. They represent what the people of this city value. More importantly, they represent proof that the people of this city still value the people of this city. They want places to come together and more and more I’m seeing stores that don’t just sell stuff- they support ideas and put on concerts and host meetings and tournaments and get-togethers before and after hours.

I’m not sure why I wrote this as an explanation of why I want to start a newsletter, but this is what I’ve been thinking about and this is what came out. I’ve always wanted to have something titled “confluence” as a meeting place of people and ideas and as a hat-tip to where we are. So here’s another stab and it. We’ll see how it goes.

Filed under: Best Of, cities, Prince George | Discuss





Discovering new histories: a sort-of, kind-of how to for storytellers

March 1 2014 |

I’ve argued many times that the only reason there are so many interesting stories in the New Yorks and Londons of the world is they tend to have more storytellers. Start poking around anywhere and you’ll uncover something interesting.

Case in point: yesterday, I unveiled the story of Charles Sagar, an African-American actor and playwright from Chicago-turned-Prince George barber who fought back against the racist order to clean up N—–town (racial slur) in Prince George in the 1920s. This is, as far as I know, the most complete version of this story to be told despite the fact it happened nearly 100 years ago. So I thought it might be informative to share how I pieced it together:

Part one: The anecdote

Everyone hears these little anecdotes about the past that I’m coming to realize are just the tips to icebergs of fascinating tales. Last year I was speaking with a local history buff when he mentioned that in the 1920s there was apparently an African-American actor who ran a business in downtown Prince George. This intrigued me- how does a black American actor wind up in 1920s Prince George?- but it wasn’t much to go on. So I filed it away.

Part two: The hook

February is Black History Month. As it approached I realized it might be a good time to start trying to figure out who this actor was and get a little more about his life. I had no idea how much more information I would get, but if nothing else it would be a piece of history to go along with a current event so it was worth a shot.

Part three: The digging

I was directed to professor Jonathan Swainger at the University of Northern British Columbia, the man who had apparently uncovered this nugget.

Swainger first heard of Charles Sagar when a student of his was researching crime in Prince George in the ’20s. Specifically the student had uncovered a report from 1921 in which city council directed the police commissioners to crack down on crime, paying special attention to N—–town.

This floored me, just as it had floored the student and professor when they found it. First, that such a racist policy would have been enacted in Prince George in the ’20s, and second that there was enough of a black population in Prince George in the ’20s to even warrant such a racist policy.

Anyways, I talked to Swainger about what he knew, and he told me about the context of the time as well as what little he knew about Sagar, who had indeed been involved in the theatre community in the Chicago at the turn of the century.

Part four: even more digging

So I had more, but there were still lots of details to be filled. To start, I dove into a great resource: the Prince George Newspaper Digitization Project.

Seriously, I can’t stress how great this is. Decades of history preserved in a searchable online database. I’ve used it for stories about everything from churches to tennis courts to crime. It adds a lot of context to what you can do. I collected every story and mention I could find of Sagar to fill in more details of his life: when he arrived in Prince George, organizations he belonged to, the death of his wife, the day he left the city.

I’ve also used published and unpublished research papers from the university and the college in town, oral histories collected in databases, pamphlets stored away in people’s houses, and my growing collections of books about Prince George’s past. There’s all sorts of knowledge and context tucked away in these things, and they exist just about everywhere- they are a great tool when you’re on the hunt for stories.

NowI had all the information as I could find on Sagar’s time in Prince George, but I still wanted to know who was he before coming to Canada. So it was time for step five.

Part five: the Google

I know it seems odd to turn to the Google after turning to the library archives but we’re researching obscure local histories here- it makes sense. In fact, a Google search for “Charles Sagar” and even “Charles Sagar” + “Prince George” was pretty useless. But fortunately I had uncovered a few more keywords that I could add thanks to my newspaper searches, specifically the fact that the theatre Sagar had worked at in Chicago was called the Pekin. Once I started putting that in alongside his name I was able to find a few more research projects on African-American theatre that described a few of the productions he was involved in. Among them was one called “The Negro”, and that led me to Bethany Holmstrom, a U.S.-based professor who had written about this production on her blog.

Holmstrom knew nothing of Sagar’s life in Prince George but she did know a few things about his life in the United States. More importantly, she knew the context of his life and the sort of pioneering work being done around him.

Between Holmstrom and Swainger I had two people who could put together enough of a portrait of Sagar that I was able to produce a story about him, filling it out with my own research on Google Books and the library archives. You can listen to the result below:

Charles Sagar and N—–town, Prince George

Conclusion:

Not every story is going to follow these exact steps, but they are basically the same. Hear something intriguing about the past and start digging, using every resource at your disposal. Make contact with people who search for these historical stories professionally and can provide context and ideas for where to go next. Hunt through used book stores. Learn how to do deep dives in Google using different search terms and filtered results.

I’ve got about a dozen other bits of history that I’m hoping to delve into and I’m sure there’s more out there. The past is a fascinating place and helps us understand the current world and where we live better, and uncovering a long-forgotten story from the passage of time is incredibly rewarding.

Filed under: journalism, Prince George, radio





Charles Sagar and N-town, Prince George → 

February 28 2014 |

I heard rumours that in the 1920s, there was an African-American actor who had run a business in downtown Prince George. With a bit of delving I discovered Charles Sagar, an pioneer of the African-American theatre movement who later came to Prince George to cut hair on a floating barge. He also fought back against a city council who ordered police to clean up “N******town”.  Here’s what I found out.




Emotional fascism and using music in radio

February 28 2014 |

“I worry when I put music into a radio piece…sometimes music is like emotional fascism, telling you how to feel.”

- @howsoundtweets

I recently received this piece of listener feedback on a story I produced for CBC:

“As I listened to your report recalling the murder in Prince George, I wondered why you decided to add background music to the piece? Is there insufficient drama to a person, a real person, being killed in the streets of Prince George? Does report of the kind really need a musical background for your listeners to grasp the idea that this is serious business?”

The specific piece was the opening segment of my “At Home in the Hood” series. I was revisiting a daytime murder that took place four years ago. After a couple of minutes of music-free interviews with children who saw the body, I added a musical bed underneath my narration that was contextualizing the murder within the wider scope of the neighbourhood. You can listen to it below, if you want to hear for yourself how it came together.

At Home in the Hood: Introduction

At Home in the Hood: Introduction”

I definitely understand the sentiments of the listener. We are, after all, talking about a murder. Shouldn’t that be enough?

My own answer to the question is “maybe.” As I replied in the email, I went back and forth on whether I wanted to use the music multiple times. And I deliberately held off on using it until the “story” part of the segment was over and we were moving into the “talking head narrator” part.  I felt the music was helpful to make the transition from one part of a story to another- from the personal drama of a dead body to a broader discussion about the statistics surrounding that death. The hope was to convey a mood, as well as continue to hold the listener’s attention for a rather lengthy amount of time. That’s often how I make my editing decisions: are my ears getting bored? Because it happens, no matter what the content is, and music can help alleviate that.

Of course, music can also be a crutch. In his piece on music for transom.org, Jonathan Mitchell writes:

“If you want to add music because you think the person talking is boring, you don’t really need to add music — what you need is better material. If you want to add music to mask background noise, what you really need is to make a better recording.”

This is absolutely true. I’ve listened to some of my old pieces and realize that I’d put in music to make something boring interesting- whereas all it did was draw attention to the interesting music without making the story any better.

At the same time, music is obviously an important and effective element to many types of storytelling. In the This American Life publication Radio: An Illustrated Guide, Ira Glass has this to say:

“Music is the frame around the picture. It makes it more real than real. More than just two guys talking.”

To which the book author Jessica Abel adds,

“To my surprise, this is actually true. Even Phillip Gourevitch can use a little outside help. With music, his words ring with truth, sound heroic and urgent. Without it, he’s a smart guy talking about some stuff.”

Radio is, ultimately, a form of entertainment. And we are so used to having our entertainment framed with music that not using it once in a while can put you at a huge disadvantage. Like it’s less real.

While the quote at the top of this post about emotional fascism is an obvious risk, so too is the risk of boring people by not using music when they are accustomed to having it. Look at movies like Pulp Fiction or TV shows like Breaking Bad. Music is used to ease or heighten the tension of a given scene. It’s a cue for how we should feel about what’s happening- whether the action is quirky or dramatic, humourous or hopelessly sad. Remove the musical element and it may be closer to what happens in real life, but it is less representative of how we are used to consuming the stories that tell us about real life.

Ultimately, everything about radio is musical. Silence, sound effects, pauses, cues- they all serve to draw the listener in to some sort of emotional arc. I wish I could say that I always knew the perfect solution: the exact right musical choice, the exact right words to use, when a breath is just a breath and when it’s an insight into the psyche of the person being interviewed, but unfortunately that is not the case. And so I’ll keep on listening and going based on trial, error, and experience.

Further reading/listening:

Filed under: radio | Discuss





Ferrets North Information and Rescue: Glitch

February 27 2014 |

glitch

I posted this photo to my Instagram/Facebook yesterday and it is getting a ton of likes and comments so I figured it would be nice to tell the story behind it.

The ferret on my shoulder is Glitch. She came to us a few months ago after she overwhelmed the family she was living with. She had a ton of energy and also a lot of fear, which led to her biting and basically scaring off inexperienced owners.

The reason she came to us is that a few years ago my wife discovered that there was nowhere in Prince George for people to surrender ferrets they could no longer care for. If they were brought to the local SPCA they would be transferred to the Lower Mainland. Consequently, the Lower Mainland had an influx of ferrets looking for a home.

Ferrets are growing in popularity as a pet, but there is a lot of misinformation about them. Many people think they are like looking after a hamster or guinea pig, but the truth is they are much closer to puppies and kittens that never grow out of the puppy and kitten stage. Fun, but a lot of work- so a lot of people give them up.

We didn’t have ferrets at the time, but my wife did know about how to care for them since she’d had them earlier in life. So she looked at the options and decided the best bet would be start a non-profit society to 1. try to get people more informed about how to care for ferrets so there would be less surrenders and 2. provide an option for people in northern B.C. to surrender ferrets locally, as well as adopt locally rather than buy new ones from a pet store.

Five years and a lot of work later, Ferrets North is a recognized charity with S.P.C.A.-affiliation. It is a floating shelter, meaning volunteers take pets into their homes to rehabilitate and, if possible, send to a new forever home.

Glitch is becoming a success case. My wife has worked with her patiently, and while Glitch still has a lot of energy, she has largely gotten over her fear. Her biting is nearly a non-issue, and only occurs in times of extreme stress. This walk was another effort to get her used to being out in and interacting with the world.

We have had many ferrets like Glitch. Ferrets who were mishandled either deliberately or out of lack of information and needed experienced owners to help them overcome their issues and move forward. We’ve also had ferrets who were abused and abandoned. Or ferrets who came from loving homes whose circumstances meant they could no longer afford a pet. In some of the toughest cases we are effectively a hospice for pets on their last legs whose owners don’t want to deal with in old age.

I don’t want to take much of the credit, because I do very little compared to my wife and some of the other volunteers trying to help. There’s lots of good causes in the world and I’m not saying this takes precedent over any other. But it is rewarding when you take a little animal like this one who is absolutely terrified of humans and then see her willing to ride around on my shoulder.

Most of the money raised by Ferrets North goes to vet care for animals surrendered to us: shots, surgeries, medication, and sometimes when it is the kindest option, the difficult choice of euthanasia. If you’d like to learn more you can donate via Paypal and visit ferretsnorth.org.

 




When there’s new information on a story, do we delete or amend?

February 26 2014 |

Yesterday an Amber alert was issued when a truck in Grande Prairie was stolen with a seven-month-old baby still inside. Since I have a number of friends/followers in communities near Grande Prairie, I posted a photo of the truck along with a description and licence plate number issued by RCMP to help spread the word.

Within hours, RCMP announced they had recovered the child and the alert was rescinded. I deleted my previous posts, and wrote a new one saying “Amber alert is over, 7-month-old found. Since it is over, I have deleted previous posts, but thank you for sharing.”

I rarely delete posts (unless it’s an immediate correction of a spelling mistake I didn’t notice while posting), preferring to correct and update later while letting the record stand. The reason I deleted in this case is I did not want the Amber alert to continue to spread once it was over.

In a story about the potential drawbacks of Amber it is noted that police carefully consider when to issue an alert because they don’t want the public to become desensitized to them being issued. When one goes out, they want it to mean people should be on notice. My feeling is that if an inactive alert continues to spread through social media, it contributes to a general desensitization: if you keep seeing alerts that are no longer alerts, you’ll pay less attention when an active one comes up. So I delete in order to stop the spread– my hope is you’ll only ever be able to see an amber alert on my Facebook and Twitter pages when there is one active- the old ones are gone.

However, I received a good counter-argument to this notion from Tyler Neilson, another active social media guy and smart thinker. His argument (edited from a Facebook conversation) is as follows:

“I always wonder if the original post should just be updated to give the rest of the story, rather than deleted…. I look at my feed and there are still 10+ links to articles which warn of the Amber Alert, at least 1 of them coming in after the amber alert had been canceled…

“Your follow-up is the only one in my feed, and there are now 15 posts/shares about the amber alert that I can see …

“This post [about the alert being over] has not been shared, and your other post that had been shared could have been rewritten to instantly get the correct information out (and at a higher likelihood of being seen based on the existing interactions) … you already had the broadcast in place, and you could have updated the message. Now as people look back through their News Feed for your informative post about a breaking news situation they may or may not see this, they certainly won’t see the other, and they are likely to come across many other posts which have not been updated (nor deleted). My thought was that you had a chance to provide some balance …”

His point is that if I had updated, rather than deleted, the original post all the people who had shared it would have now been sharing the new information. By deleting, all I’m doing is taking away the old information- but since other people have posted the same old information it drowns out the new information. Plus my new information about an alert being over isn’t likely to be shared as much as the old information about the alert being issued.

I see the point, and I think I would use it in most cases, but I think I’ll continue to delete in cases such as this one. Happy to hear other thoughts, though!

 




Prince George’s Best Restaurants → 

February 25 2014 |

Best of Prince George

One of the most-listened to, most-shared interviews I ever conducted was with Chris Dias, who goes by the online handle “Prince Gastronome.” Way back in the olden days of 2012, Chris was partway through the process of eating at and reviewing every non-franchise restaurant in Prince George. One of the things that stood out to me about his process is he had no intention of being kind. He wasn’t giving bonus points for trying- he figured that the restaurants of Prince George should be held to the same standards as in major cities, so he was quick with the criticism where he felt fit.

Two years later, he has done exactly what he set out to do and is now doling out the awards for the best of the bunch. I don’t agree with everything on his list, but I do agree with the process, and I find his personal take a lot more interesting than the mass-vote “Best in PG” lists that hand out awards for best burger to McDonald’s and best icecream to Dairy Queen. It’s also interesting to see someone rate local businesses on such a harsh standard- I see the need for boosterism, but I also appreciate a review that doesn’t give points for trying. I’m also fully with him that the best sushi Prince George (and possibly Canada) has ever seen was the now-defunct Suzuran- it remains the standard to which I hold all other raw-fish makers to.

I had another great conversation with Chris about his findings this morning. You can listen to it below:

Chris Dias on Daybreak North, February 25 2014

The list so far:

BEST FRONT OF HOUSE

BEST PLATING

BEST CHINESE

BEST ETHNIC

BEST JAPANESE

BEST BISTRO

BEST BRUNCH

BEST PUB

BEST DÉCOR

BEST NIGHTLIFE

Still to come:

BEST RESTAURANT

 




Lheidli T’enneh | Where I live

February 24 2014 |

A while back, I wrote a post lamenting the fact that European settlers had changed the name of the area I live from “Lheidli T’enneh” (meaning “people of the confluence” or “people of the confluence of the two rivers”) to “Prince George” (meaning Europeans were in the habit of naming places after monarchs who had very little to do with anything in this part of the world). I much prefer the meaning contained in the original name over the colonial nature of the latter.

Prince George Citizen editor Neil Godbout has called for Prince George to be renamed Lheidli T’enneh for the same reasons. I don’t know whether this is likely to happen, but after noticing that Vancouver-based radio producer Garth Mullins says he lives on the Salish Sea in his Twitter bio, it occurs to me there is nothing stopping me from taking a similar step.

So now my homepage says I live in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh, and my Twitter and Google+ locations are set to “Lheidli T’enneh/Prince George”. LinkedIn and Facebook don’t recognize custom location names, so on Facebook I’ve added “Lheidli T’enneh” as one of the places I’ve lived and also made it my home address in the “contact” section, and I put “…in Lheidli T’enneh traditional territory” at the end of my LinkedIn tagline. I plan to update other profiles as I come across them (I have a lot).

I love this city, but the name “Prince George” evokes no meaning for me. “Lheidli T’enneh”, on the other hand, is location-specific, is tied to a long history, and actually describes the place I live and who I am: a person in a city at the confluence.

By making this change, all I’m doing is typing a few words into online profiles. But it feels like there’s a whole lot more meaning there now.

Filed under: Aboriginal, Best Of, Prince George | Discussion





Remember when the city said people complaining about the lack of snow removal had unreasonable expectations? They changed their mind.

February 23 2014 |

What a difference a month (and some internal analysis) makes.

In January the city’s superintendent of operations Bill Gall delivered this report on snow removal (emphasis is mine):

“Over the years, some residents have come to expect immediate relief after a snow fall…

The City’s snow clearing efforts have not changed. What is changing is the weather events and the volume of snow per storm event, and more importantly, resident expectations.”

So the big difference was my expectations were too high? This surprised me, because I thought the conditions I was seeing were worse than in the past. As I wrote:

“we are closing in on a month since you could drive on our street at anything over 20 km/h, if at all. And we’re not alone, there are many other streets as bad as ours. People haven’t been receiving UPS deliveries because of ‘hazardous weather conditions’ and more than one Amazon package hasn’t come to our house because the driver doesn’t want to come onto our road.”

Well, a month later and a more in-depth report from the city and it turns out maybe, just maybe, unreasonable resident expectations weren’t the reason people were saying snow clearing was worse than usual. According to the report, snow clearing was, in fact, worse than usual. Some highlights:

I highlight the issue of equipment because there was a little dust-up where after being told that all the city’s equipment was operating at all times, councillor Brian Skakun snapped a photo of parked equipment and posted in on Facebook, questioning whether this was true or not. Turns out it wasn’t.

I’m also interested to learn that the practice of clearing some streets multiple times while ignoring others (like mine) was a mistake and not, as had been implied throughout the near-month my road was ignored, a matter of priorities. It’s a lot nicer to hear that living on a near-impassable road in the main part of the city for weeks is an error, and not just a matter of my expectations being too high.

If you want the complete comparison, here’s report numer one and the new report number two.

 

 




The push

February 22 2014 |

“How good are you at skiing?”

That was the question asked of me when I answered my phone while grocery shopping a couple of weeks ago.

“Um… I’m OK?”

“Are you speedy?”

“I can be, kind of, I guess?”

“OK, you’re in.”

The caller was a friend of mine, and the “in” was as the skier for a team in the Prince George Iceman, an annual competition where racers ski, run, skate, and swim in the midst of a cold February day.

I’d thought about doing the Iceman before, but always found that by the time sign-up rolled around I hadn’t trained, wasn’t ready, couldn’t do it this time. Now on a whim a group of friends had decided to form a team and put me on it- one week before the race.

* * *

“We’ve also also had a couple presenters drop out, so there’s still room for more! We’re looking for stories about the impact of play, sport and movement in your life.”

This was four days later. The Facebook page for PechaKucha Prince George was looking for more people to take part in its inaugural event. For the unfamiliar, PechaKucha is sort of like “TED” on speed: presenters get twenty slides that last for twenty seconds a piece, amounting to a six-minute-and-forty second talk on a diverse range of subjects. The theme for this was “The Power to Move You” on how activity has influenced your life.

I’d thought about taking part, but was pretty busy with various work and home projects. But I wanted to see the night succeed so tentatively emailed- was there anyone talking about biking? There wasn’t. So I was in. I had two weeks.

* * *

I’d been fighting a cough, so didn’t get out skiing in the week leading up to the Iceman. In fact, my first day of training was the day before the race. I had to borrow some racing skis, and find a volunteer to show me where the course was.

The next day, people watched anxiously as the temperature dropped below the minus twenty cut-off point where the race was cancelled. Things were pushed back to a later time, but ultimately it was too cold, and so the Iceman was called off for only the second time in its twenty-seven year history.

But my friends wanted to go for it anyways. So we drove out to the track, and I did the race by myself. I then spent the rest of the morning watching the rest of my team complete their sections. I later looked at my time and found it was nearly twice as long as some of the top competitors in previous years. Overall, I would have been right near the bottom.

* * *

The fears I had about being too busy to prepare for PechaKucha had come to pass, as well. I had lots of ideas drafted up in my head, but I didn’t have a chance to start writing them down until the day before I was supposed to speak. I hastily completed the slides the day of, and only got a chance to run through them once before I was supposed to do it in a room full of strangers. In the end, my timing got muddled and I had to drop a big portion of what I’d prepared in order to fit into the time limit.

* * *

So I had one of the slower times in the Iceman, and one of the worse presentations in PechaKucha.

Do I regret doing either? Not at all.

I figure, the worst is over. Now that I’ve done the Iceman without any training, I can no longer use the excuse of “I haven’t done any training” to get out of it. All I have to do is practice twice and I have a leg up over this year.

Same goes with the PechaKucha. I know where I went wrong, and I have a better idea of how to prepare for the next time I take part (assuming there’s a theme I can fit in). It certainly makes me feel more comfortable with public speaking, knowing that I can do it with very little time to prepare.

In both cases, all I needed was a push. Now it’s time to keep going.

 




←Before

Back to top
Great getting out for a run this morning.Morning project: raised-bed gardenDuck eggs are pre-dyedDerek Joyce avec band.@rosewoodsdiary play"Hey Shame" aka the @daybreaknorth theme song. I feel I should jump on stage and introduce what's coming up.In place of the classic line or 'x' to prove you bought a ticket, Derek Joyce's crew uses a turtle.This is what the best cheddar cheese in Canada looks like @fhcheeses @hshgrocery