Nov 222016
 

Over the course of my life, I’ve taken more than one writing class. Once I took a whole program of them, even. And I’ve also read a fair amount about writers talking about the craft of writing. And something I’ve never understood is that, nearly invariably, there is this fairly painfully explicit hand-wringing on the part of authors/writers/those who put pen to paper/what have you over their assessment of their own writing. It’s like most writers think they aren’t “real” writers unless they trash their own work to a certain (ridiculous if you ask me) extent.

You hear them bemoan going back to earlier work and cringing through it. You hear them whining about how talentless they are when they hear acclaimed writer so-and-so read their writing.

To be honest, I just want to tell them to shut up.

When I go back and read my writing, the stuff that I thought was good enough to put up on my 1990s-era website for all the world to see, I’m impressed. When I re-read the short story I got published once in that magazine that shortly thereafter went out of business1 or the novella I wrote for the 3-Day Novel Contest that got me into the writing program I took, or even my “coming out” poems, I’m like, “Damn, I should really do more of this—I am not making enough use of this talent.” What on Earth are you doing writing if you don’t think you’re any good at it?!

Do I think I’m the best writer ever? No. Do I think my writing, then and now, is flawless somehow? Of course not. Have I written bad things before? Totally. Will I write bad things again? I’m sure I will. But seriously, writers—and there’s a whole other blog post’s worth of material I could get into about the taking on of identities like “writer”—shut the fuck up about how bad your writing is. Seriously, there is something super-unhealthy in this notion that to be a “real” writer, one has to self-flagellate.2 While I do buy the notion that there’s always room for improvement, if you truly are as unhappy with your work as you generally sound like you are, stop trying to be a writer. And if you aren’t, well then… false humility is pretty much the most unattractive form of humility there is. Antithetical to the notion of humility, even, one might say.

There’s suffering for one’s art and then there’s suffering by virtue of how purportedly bad an artist you are, which is just offensive since there is more than enough real suffering to go around in this world.

  1. totally not related, I swear []
  2. totally not the same thing as “self-fellate,” by the way []
Nov 212016
 

I am watching a new TV show this fall. Oh scratch that: I am watching a multitude of new TV shows this fall! This is because one of my prime forms of entertainment is TV. But not any TV, oh no. Specifically, 1-hour TV dramas. I nearly never watch sitcoms and I would rather kill myself than watch “reality” “TV.” So I watch allllllll the 1-hour dramas.1

One of the new shows I’m watching is called This Is Us, which I am so not just watching for Mandy Moore (because of this or this) or Justin Hartley (because uhm duh!!!).

The first episode or two, I wasn’t sold, if only because it was trying so. damn. hard. to tug on your heartstrings. Like… if I feel like I’m being manipulated into crying, you are in trouble, because I generally love tearjerker drama and not because I’m too stupid to know it’s designed to elicit a very specific reaction in its viewers. It was just so heavy-handed about it.

But then after a few episodes, I got into it (there’s a pretty cool twist in the show’s conceit which I won’t spoil but yeah, cool and thought-provoking). And then… oh network TV, why do you do this to me?

Yes, one of the show’s key (hetero) couples had a pregnancy scare. And since This Is Us airs not just on “network TV” but one of the “big three” (read: ABC, CBS, NBC), it had to be handled in the time-honoured US network TV tradition: so unrealistically as to make your head spin.

So thanks to NBC, the couple (who have never been revealed to be particularly religious, let alone evangelical) deals with the scare by not even bringing up the possibility of abortion. Even though they have two children already and the wife expresses how much she was looking forward to getting back to work now that their daughters are not toddlers, not even the slightest hint that terminating the pregnancy is an available option (no matter how undesirable it may or may not be for that particular couple) is made.

I could have SCREAMED.

(This is before the recent US presidential election. Which of course is frightening to think may have mattered, even though it thankfully didn’t.)

My friend Ali tells me, however, that the CW (a “netlet” or smaller network than the “big three” but still considered moderately widespread and somewhat of a big deal) just aired an episode of the quirky musical My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that handled the issue of abortion in a pretty normalized manner. And it was also handled well, apparently, during the first season of Amazon’s Transparent. So maybe there is hope that, someday, even though no one is forced to choose it, abortion’s existence as an option might get acknowledged on shows being made and broadcast on widely disseminated media. Because women fought and died for that option to be on the table, and not even bringing up its existence is offensive.

  1. Ha! I don’t even watch close to all of them but it certainly feels like I do. []
Nov 192016
 

Sometime in the last 10 to 15 years, a horrible plague started reaching critical mass. What plague is that? The plague of people who for some reason have lost the ability to understand one of the very simplest rules of grammar ever, which is that you form the plural of a word by—in general—just adding an S to the end of said word.

For example, one cat, two or more cats.  I ate some apples.

So what are grocers’ apostrophes, you ask? Well, grocers’ apostrophes would be when you want to talk about more than one apostrophe and you, in a fit of stupendous idiocy, write about the apostrophe’s you are interested in talking about.

Yes, there are actually people out there who think you form the plural by adding –‘s to the end of the word you want to make plural. But as anyone with a Grade 4 education should know, using apostrophe-S at the end of a word is how you form the possessive, not the plural.

As in, what is Kalev‘s biggest grammar pet peeve? That is, the pet peeve that belongs to Kalev.1

Apparently this started with grocers, hence the name, who would handwrite signs such as Apple’s 1/-2 a pound or Orange’s 1/63 a pound. I’m not sure it’s really fair to blame grocers for this but at least it’s a distinctive name.

It’s slightly forgivable when people do it for decades in numeral form or to make abbreviations plural. You have definitely seen, and have probably written yourself, the following:

  • the 1970’s, with few exceptions, were just horrible in terms of fashion
  • I used to love living in Vancouver because we had the cheapest CD’s in Canada or the US
  • It’s crazy how quickly DVD’s are becoming obsolete

In the case of acronyms, people want to indicate that the terminal S that forms the plural isn’t actually part of the acronym itself. In the case of decades, I guess the apostrophe is there because people feel weird about having letters and numbers in the same string of characters?

Of course, in all but a few cases, acronyms are generally written all uppercase, and in 2016, when things like “the iPhone 4S, 5S, 6S, and 7S” are commonplace, I don’t think we have to feel self-conscious about having numbers and letters “touching.” So really, all that should be written:

  • the 1970s, with few exceptions, were just horrible in terms of fashion
  • I used to love living in Vancouver because we had the cheapest CDs in Canada or the US
  • It’s crazy how quickly DVDs are becoming obsolete

Just as readable, and no worries that someone might think you are talking about the DVD’s cover (the cover belonging to the DVD), or the DVDs’ covers (the covers belonging to the DVDs), etc.

But honestly, it is SHOCKING how frequently you will see this now. I have to beat the habit out of my co-op students, who are (arguably) fairly highly-educated people. And it’s not just “the young’uns:” I see it from people my age and up, too. When people don’t know weird grammar things —like if they mess up the possessive form of “it” and write it as “it’s”4 or they don’t use the subjunctive—I can be forgiving because at least they are messing up things that are increasingly rare (proper use of the subjunctive) or a fairly huge exception to how things are usually done (the possessive form of “it”). But forming the plural in English is DEAD SIMPLE: you add an S. That’s it. So if people are trying to form the plural by adding apostrophe-S, they are actually making things more complicated/longer to write. Also, I’d love to see how they write about the kittens’ mother or the kids’ parents if they’re using this mistaken method.

You see this error EVERY. DAY.

Case in point:

(There are many other problems with this ad but it’s a great example of the case in point.)

And then there’s this one, which nearly caused me actual pain when I saw it:

img_2156

So the moral of this story is: forming the plural in English is easy and has nothing to do with apostrophes. Don’t make something that is simple into something more complicated.

  1. That is a meta-rhetorical question, in case you were wondering. ? []
  2. that’s one shilling []
  3. one shilling sixpence []
  4. which is the contraction “it is”—what they should have written is “its” and that’s the most common exception to the standard way of forming the possessive so it’s understandable people screw that one up []
Nov 172016
 

This past Friday, my friend kele and I saw the new Amy Adams film Arrival. I’m not sure what I was expecting—probably more of an action-adventure sci-fi flick—but wow, was it ever something completely better! It was fairly slow and meditative, but in a really great way. It did exactly what good sci-fi is supposed to do, which is use the backdrop of the fantastic to explore the beauty and terror of human existence.

It was just really, really good. I am completely shocked it was a huge Hollywood film1 with such big stars—Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker also star. And, always a good clue that it was working at a higher level than most films, the score was so good that I actually noticed how good it was. For some reason, I don’t find the sound aspects of films usually move me very much, so when I do actually sit up and go, “Hey… this movie’s score is amazing!” then it usually means the entire film is a notch above the usual theatre fare.

Anyway, it’s just so so so good—do yourself a favour and go see it!

  1. The last good “thoughtful” sci-fi film I saw was Ex Machina and that was the opposite of a big Hollywood film. []
Nov 162016
 

I know, I know… leave TransLink alone! But I can’t, I just can’t. I have been taking transit since well before there was a TransLink, back when it was just BC Transit. (I made sure, though, when they changed the name that I got on board quick… because I remember my mother dating herself by slipping up and calling BC Transit “BC Electric” a few times when I was growing up. LOL) As shocking as it may be to today’s apparently freaked-out parents, I was taking transit on my own (well, without any adult supervision—just with a friend of the same age) in Grade 2. Yes, age 7. In SURREY!!!12

On top of that, when I’m visiting San Francisco, people ask me for transit directions. When a bunch of my grad school friends and I went to New York in 2010 before there was ubiquitous cell phone data coverage (or at least for visiting Canadians), guess who was enlisted as the transit navigator? And I know more about Toronto’s (completely fucked up looney tunes batshit crazy) transit landscape than most people who have lived there their entire lives. One of my favourite places in London the first time I went was the (super-cool) London Transport Museum. One of the worst places I ever visited when first travelling alone as an adult? Orlando. Why? (I mean, why other than the fact it’s a swampy, festering, fake as shit, everyone drives, there’s no vegetarian food options but Mexican hell hole?) Because there’s practically no public transit.

I don’t have a license, I’ve never owned a car, etc. etc. etc. Anyway, you get it: I heart transit.

Which means when the local transit authority screws something up (and again, despite not being the TTC, they tend to do this with alarming regularity), it hurts me to my core. And I don’t mean “screw up” like not be able to spin themselves well enough to win last year’s transit funding plebiscite. No, I mean it kills me when they fuck up the very fundamentals of their operations.

Case in point: recent exhibit A—the pedestrian overpass from Metrotown SkyTrain station to the country’s second-biggest shopping mall.3 Metrotown Station, as one of the busiest yet most-cramped stations in the SkyTrain system, is currently undergoing major renovations to expand its size and allow for the installation of Compass fare gates.4 Part of those renovations involve removing the pedestrian bridge that keeps thousands of passengers a day safely away from vehicular traffic when they head for the mall.

Just recently, we were treated to the announcement that, contrary to what the public had been led to believe, there is no concrete (ha!) plan as to when that “passerelle5 will be replaced.

Yep, I’m not even close to kidding: starting tomorrow, November 16, 2016, all gazillion of the mall’s customers who already have to cram themselves onto a bridge that was too small over 30 years ago when the station first opened will now be expected to walk down stairs6 to the street and cross to the mall through traffic. As one would expect, there’s a fair amount of traffic happening around the country’s 2nd biggest shopping mall, situated as it is in a suburb.

Seriously: not kidding! Take a look:

While TransLink attempts to insist a new bridge will be built (most clearly in the comments, because in the articles themselves, it’s a lot less clear), let me assure you that I have no such certainty. Why? Well because before this most recent announcement, TransLink claimed a new bridge was being built, and I even asked about it to make sure they realized they needed to make it about double the width of the current bridge. While they did indicate that the existing bridge would be closed and torn down before the new bridge was complete (which, I thought at the time, was crazy enough in its own right for all the reasons above), at least then we were thinking there was a plan in place to build the new bridge. It turns out that there is no existing agreement between the three pertinent parties, all of whom need to agree to make it happen, about when the bridge will be built, how it will be built, and who will pay for it.

Those three parties are TransLink, the City of Burnaby, and the mall owners, all of whom need to stop fucking around and start caring about their riders’ and patrons’ safety. Instead, when pushed on the issue, TransLink points the finger at the other two parties, conveniently ignoring the fact that the renovations at Metrotown Station should NEVER have even started until this issue was cleared up.

Even if the new bridge is a certainty, the mind boggles at what TransLink might consider a “reasonable” timeline. Before the renovations are fully complete in winter 2017/18? A year after that? 3 years? 5 years? It sounds crazy… but then, it’s already crazy they started renovations without figuring out the whole bridge thing to start with!

I’ll close with an official response to my customer service complaint about this should-have-been-completely-avoidable situation:7

Thank you for your feedback.

Metrotown Station is one of the oldest and busiest stations on the Expo Line and has long been in need of upgrades to improve accessibility, capacity, safety, and security. The overhead pedestrian walkway is owned and maintained by the mall developer. TransLink is currently working with the City and Ivanhoe Cambridge to sign a formal agreement for design, construction and funding of the new walkway, but no decisions have been made at this time. Once an agreement is in place and construction dates have been determined we will provide the information to the public..  We recognize that this is a major impact to our customers and we thank everyone for their patience while we improve Metrotown Station. Original plans had the station closing down during construction. This option allows us to keep the station open for the thousands of customers who use it every day.  We have conducted an analysis of pedestrian volumes during busy holiday periods, and we know that there is enough room to safely move all passengers. To accommodate the increase in pedestrian traffic, the crosswalks have been widened and the new bus lane will be used as a pedestrian walkway.

The new station upgrades are expected to be complete by spring 2017, at which time, three new elevators will be operating.   We apologize for the inconvenience.

Sincerely,
Customer Information Services

Or TL;DR: Here is our canned response telling you everything will be totally fine and if it’s not, it’s not our fault!

Like truly, it didn’t occur to them to maybe sort this out before they started the renovations? Cart before horse much?

If it didn’t mean someone would get hurt and/or killed, I would LOVE for them (and the City of Burnaby and Ivanhoe Cambridge) to face some kind of class action suit for criminal negligence. If anything, they should be investing in more safety measures, not removing the ones that already exist.

At least this time around (often I find myself railing against things other people don’t seem to feel are important—I’m sure you are shocked to hear this ?), there are a whole lot of other people who join me in thinking TransLink is making a serious mistake in how it’s handling this whole situation (judging from the comments left at the two articles, at least).

Bravo, TransLink—bravo!

(PS why the hell does Evergreen mean GO?! Gods I hate marketing garbage!)

  1. I was going to say that Surrey in the 1980s wasn’t as bad as Surrey now… but let’s face it: Surrey is just eternally awful and nothing but a nuclear bomb wiping it off the face of the planet will ever change that. []
  2. Have I mentioned how much I hate my hometown? Basically, Surrey is pretty much the antithesis of everything I stand for. []
  3. Imagine for a second that you had the utmost honour of being second to something from EDMONTON! LOL LOL []
  4. Fare gates: don’t get me started!! []
  5. which is apparently how you refer to a pedestrian bridge if you are as pretentious as all fuck, which TransLink really likes to be []
  6. TransLink’s “fun” ideas of accessibility are a whole ’nother blog post []
  7. yes, I’m totally the guy who actually fills in feedback forms for organizations like TransLink []
Nov 152016
 

You might, if you live in the Lower Mainland and take transit, be aware that TransLink, our favourite public transit provider, is proposing to actually expand service starting in early 2017. As part of this planned expansion, they have a 3-year funding proposal that they were taking public input on last month.

In a shocking turn of events, they have actually proposed (modestly) raising property taxes, something the Mayors’ Council has been extremely loath to do, laying all of the responsibility for transit funding at the door of the provincial government which, as you might well imagine if you understand how the BC Liberals work, has meant there’s been no new funding for transit for, oh, I dunno—15 years or so?

HOWEVER (of course there’s a “but”) they have, hand in hand with this (extremely modest) property tax increase (and you have to understand that property taxes in Vancouver and indeed the Lower Mainland are ROCK BOTTOM), proposed to increase transit fares each year for the next 3 years, under the guise that fares “aren’t keeping up with inflation.”

So below, I destroy that particular huge lie of theirs.

But TL;DR: about the only “good” thing about the fare increase part of the proposal is that the monthly passes will end up being a better deal than they are now… vs. either cash or Compass Stored Value. You know, if you can stomach paying $98/month for a 1-zone pass in 3 years. (All proposed new fares are on page 3 of their backgrounder.)

Otherwise, it’s a “screw you, 1-zone travellers” proposal.

I even did up a cool little spreadsheet if you are interested in how the proposed increases play out, percentage-wise.

But, as I discuss below in the feedback I sent them, the proposal is garbage overall:

Your fare increase proposals are ridiculous and the rationale for said increases are completely misleading. You imply that since fares haven’t risen since 2013, they are not keeping up with inflation. However, this assumes that, prior to 2013, they did increase relatively in line with inflation… and this is patently untrue. For instance, the cost of a 1-zone monthly pass rose from $81/month in 2010 to $91/month in 2013, or a 12.3% increase… which is far higher than inflation in BC over the same 3-year period. If you look at the last two increases, over 6 years from 2008 to 2013, this particular cost rose 24.7% ($73 to $91/month). Inflation over that period was 6.06%, or 1/4 of the increase to 1-zone monthly passes. Even if you spread those two increases out to the present day (end of 2016), it represents an annual increase from 2008 of 2.8% a year; inflation in BC over that period was 0.91% a year.1 That’s about 3 times the rate of inflation.

Also, you state you used an overall 2% increase in fares as the level to help fund Phase 1 of the 10-Year Vision. Yet a quick look at your own proposal shows that 4/9 of your cash fare increases, 9/9 of your Compass fare increases, and 4/9 of your monthly pass fare increases are above 2%. The values that are 2% or lower do not even come close to being low enough to average the overall increases out to 2% a year for 3 years. So why are you lying and making it seem like you’re only raising fares 2% (a year)?

In addition, you obviously know fares are already unreasonably high because you highlight an effort to minimize the percentage increases to 2- and 3-zone fares. Yet you offer no rationale for explaining a) why more of the burden of fare increases should be borne by people travelling only 1-zone (and one assumes the bulk of those are in Zone 1, i.e. Vancouver, which is denser by far than the surrounding municipalities and therefore cheaper to deliver transit to, by which I mean why are commuting suburbanites getting an even bigger subsidy in this proposal) AND, from the other side of encouraging transit use and getting people out of their cars, b) how you expect to encourage people to abandon their cars when riding transit to and from work over 3 zones will cost $9/day at the end of this proposed fare increase regime.

So overall, my assessment of your proposed funding sources is: they suck. In particular, if you are serious about not impacting transit ridership and encouraging more people to get out of their vehicles, you would freeze fares over this proposed 3-year period and seek that money elsewhere, namely from the provincial government, developers, and Lower Mainland property taxes, which are widely recognized as some of the lowest on the continent for a region of this size, population, and complexity. $3/year for average homeowners (who are, last I checked, extremely well-off in this region given the insane ongoing increases in housing prices) while monthly pass users have to fork out $24/year or $36/year more?

UPDATE:

The Mayors’ Council and the TransLink board (aka the BC NeoLiberals) approved the 10-Year Plan on Wed Nov 23, 2016. Don’t get me wrong—there’s lots of good stuff in it. The fare increases, though? Still bogus.

  1. All inflation data for BC from http://inflationcalculator.ca/british-columbia/ []
Nov 142016
 

This could likely be an infinite series added to long after I’m dead and cremated.

But here’s one of the fundamentals:

  • Don’t have headphones? Then never, and I mean NEVER, have your electronic device on anything but mute. There’s so totally no excuse for forcing anyone to listen to your music, your game’s super-annoying sounds, both sides of your Skype conversation, etc. In fact, I would go so far as to say if you are in public and you end up in a messaging conversation with someone —and so you are receiving a stream of steady alerts about their incoming messages—you should, after the first or second alert, put your phone on mute. Basically, your phone should always be on mute except when it might cause you to miss information. And if you don’t for some reason have headphones? Then no, you can’t watch that YouTube video, Vine (ha ha #RIPvine), or super-important Instagram story with the sound on.

    Just NO.

    No.

    Still no.

    Oh you’re a douchebag? What, you’re not? Then no!

Nov 132016
 

I keep seeing people make this somewhat new mistake over and over again lately: they say that in reference to people or a person. So instead of saying, “he’s the person who wrote that grammar Nazi entry,” they’ll say, “he’s the person that wrote that grammar Nazi entry.”

“Oh those are the people that who wrote that song!”

There’s a whole special relative pronoun for when you’re referring to humans: we call it “who.” It might be the cat that shat on the carpet but it’s the person who has to clean it up.

Yeah, blah blah blah, language should be descriptive and not prescriptive yadda yadda yadda. Go too far down that road and you have words that end up meaning two completely opposite things (the millennial definition of “literally”), words that are written as opposites that mean the same thing (regardless and irregardless, flammable and inflammable), or the most horrific grammar stupidity of modern times, grocers’ apostrophes!

Yes, using “that” when you are referring to a person does seem to be a facet of modern pop songs, but do you really want to be getting your grammar advice from 1D, Katy Perry, or Shawn Mendes?