This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

2010 NCCE Conference

I'm in Seattle at the 2010 Northwest Council for Computer Education convention. To be very specific, I am in a workshop at this very moment learning to use some new Adobe on-line software. That's why I am on-line writing a blog entry right now. More about that in another blog.

My hero Captain Jacques Cousteau

This morning's opening keynote speaker was Philippe Cousteau, grandson of one of my childhood heros, Jacques Cousteau. As a kid I looked forward to the occasional National Geographic specials broadcast on TV. Even though his thick French accent was sometimes difficult to understand, it nevertheless forced me to listen more carefully to the important message he delivered about the wonders of the world's oceans, their beauty, mystery and the connectedness of my life to that of the creatures of the sea. He inspired me at an early age, to study marine biology and for a time I did think of majoring in that field in college. In fact he inspired an entire generation to go to sea, to study it and to become more aware of what our human actions were doing to the oceans of the world.

His son and grandson have tried carried on their grandfather's legacy and Philippe has created popular programs on the Discovery Channel that bring the wonders of the sea as well as the continuing crisis in our oceans into our living rooms.
So as you might imagine, I was anxious to hear what he had to say as well as to be in the presence of a member of the Cousteau family.

The presentation didn't start out well. Philippe is a very good looking man. In fact the buzz around the convention was that he was a McDreamy type, a reference to the popular TV show Grey's Anatomy. His video introduction splashed across the screens in
the hall flashing snappy, fast-paced photos of him in various GQ-like poses. I would have thought that he would have wanted to down play the GQ model image in favor of a more legitimate scientific, thoughtful, introspective image. Perhaps that doesn't go well with today's fast paced sound bite documentary style.

Philippe Cousteau, grandson of Jacques Cousteau

His grandfather's documentaries unfolded slowly, letting the beauty of the oceans and the story he was telling wash over us. No fast paced, thumpy music score or contrived near death experiences. Just the beauty of the sea and the lessons to be learned. Sadly, his speech lived up to the shallow image of his video intro. What he had to say had no more depth than a tide pool at low tide.

The depth of his thoughts could have been given by most anyone with the most basic knowledge of the issues of our oceans. The one saving grace was that he interspersed it with thoughts, video clips, quotes and insights into his grand dad's life.
It seemed to me that he is doing what he does, not because of any personal driving passion to acquire further knowledge of our planet, but rather he is capitalizing on the family name and his good looks to carve out a career in the family business. Sad and disappointing!

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Visit to the Olympics. . .Sort of

We made the decision that we should at least go up and check out the Olympics in Vancouver. Only a 45 minute drive from here, it did seem like it'd be a shame to say you hadn't bothered. Honestly, our real reason for going up was to go to hear the Mike Allen Quartet play at O'Doul's on Robson Street. Since a lot of the free Olympic activity was happening within a few blocks of Robson Street, why not take a walk around and see what was going on?

We also thought it would be a great idea, what with all the crowds around the Olympic areas, to try taking the SkyTrain. It would whisk us to within a few blocks of O'Doul's and we wouldn't have to fuss with parking or navigating around the streets that had been blocked off for the duration of the Olympics.

We got across the b
order easily with our new Nexus cards. Actually everyone did with or without one. A car in the non-Nexus lane adjacent to us got through faster than we did. Only a 5 minute wait at the Canadian side. Great! Smooth sailing so far.

We headed for Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver, where we could park and take the SkyTrain the rest of the way. We drove to the first statio
n we found and pulled into the parking lot only to find that only customers of the adjacent shopping mall were allowed to park there. Hmmm. No problem. We'd follow the elevated track on down to the next station. Same thing. Parking only for customers of this shopping center. Plenty of parking. None allowed. Why were these stations built here if no one is allowed to park?

Finally, we decided to go to the airport a few miles up the road to park at their SkyTrain station. Found it. Only airport employees were allowed to park.

So we decided to go ahead and attempt to drive into the city despite all the warnings we had heard about trying to do so. We jogged a few times to avoid streets we knew to be blocked off but managed, with absolutely not one bit of trouble, to drive right to our usual parking garage 2 blocks from O'Doul's on Robson. We even parked in the same slot we had last time and the rest of the garage was mostly empty. What is going on? As we drove into the city up the four lane streets that we just knew would be parking lots full of cars attempting the same thing we'd just done, we were incredulous at the lack of traffic. It seemed to us no worse than it is anytime we've gone to Vancouver.

We walked up Robson and within a couple of blocks the crowds appeared and it got more an
d more crowded as we went along. Intersections were controlled by traffic cops. Eventually barriers blocked off the street to pedestrians only and then it got crazy. The areas where the free public activities were located was a sea of humanity. Still you could get around. But getting in to do anything required standing in long lines, something I do not do. So we watched and took it all in. Then we turned around and left walking back down Robson towards the way we had come.

Slowly, the crowds thinned out and within a couple of blocks the crowds were no worse than they would be on any summer day. The crowds were all concentrated within a very few blocks. Otherwise, you would have had a difficu
lt time knowing anything unusual was going on in the city. Seriously. Oh, there were the occasional clutches of boisterous fans waving the Canadian flag. There were a few groups of fans who were a bit too over the top obnoxious or drunk, but no more so than you would expect after a big game of some sort.

The rest of the city was simply dead. Little or no sign that the Olympics were in town.

We ducked into O'Doul's, our main reason for being here and got our favorite table right in front of the band stage. The only tab
le in the bar had been reserved for us. We took our seats and were joined by Mike and his wife, Donna, our friend and drummer Julian McDonough and by others as the evening went on. We ordered drinks, had dinner and listened to Mike's group play all evening. As soon as they began my wife and I both sighed and realized how much we had missed their playing. Julian was up from Albequerque, where he lives with his wife and baby, just to play here for the 2 weeks of the Olympics. A nice gig. Of course we all wanted to know when he was moving back to Bellingham. We always ask. We miss him.

We had several opportunities to sit and chat, and get caught up with the guys. Two other tenor sax players and another drummer sat in for a few tunes. The "three tenors" played wonderfully together, each taking a turn soloing and all playing off each other's riffs. What a night. Who needs the Olympics.

We've noticed that Mike has a set of groupies that frequent O'Doul's when he plays and we have gotten to know some of them over time, just like the jazz fiends we hang out with in Bellingham. About midnight, we said our goodbyes to everyone and headed home. We did make a detour through the downtown area to drive past the Olympic Flame. Even there, there were no crowds. We stopped to shoot a few snaps and then continued for home. The drive out of the city was exactly as it would be any other night of the week. No crowds leaving the Olympics to cross the border or go home to the suburbs. It was dead.

As for the SkyTrain, Vancouver you have a few kinks to work out of your mass transit system if the purpose is to keep traffic out of the city core. Because, from my perspective, it ain't workin'. Of course, if that is as crowded as it gets in Vancouver, it doesn't need to to work.