How do I love Vancouver..let me count the ways

We had such a great weekend in Vancouver for SQL Saturday I just had to write. By the way, if you haven’t gone to a SQL Saturday, let me just say it’s fun, you learn a lot, and it’s free.

Getting there was a challenge. Although we left early on Friday, from Everett to Bellingham it was like a hurricane — tall pine trees bowing and creaking, and freezing temps. Past Surrey the winds died down but we were in for a new treat: Vancouver rush-hour traffic. I thought I was being clever by planning to arrive between 3 and 4, but in fact they switch the traffic lanes just around 3, to allow people to get out of Vancouver. As a result, if you are coming in after 3, you are tearing along at around 100kph, see the lane light flash yellow, then red, upon which traffic comes to a screeching halt as 3 major highways (ferries, TransCanada Hwy 1, and 99 from border) are routed into a single lane.

It was pretty entertaining – all kinds of people were of course trying trying to squeeze ahead even a car’s length or two by driving on the shoulder, but a lady in a Porsche just ahead of us managed to swerve her little sports car back and forth across three lanes, dealing disappointment to line-cutters. We were extremely impressed by her moxie as we trailed her for 2 hours.

We still got to the hotel just in time to see the best sunset ever. I had booked a room at the Coast Plaza Hotel on Denham, an easy walk to Stanley Park and totally dog-friendly. Vaguely guilty that Satoshi would be stuck watching the dogs, I had splurged and signed up for a jacuzzi room on a high floor.

Alors! (trying to be Canadian here..) when we got there, it turns out dogs are not a good fit with jacuzzi rooms. (One can imagine what a Labrador would do with a private pool so close at hand…) So they gave us the honeymoon suite at the same price — which is a corner suite on the 27th floor. We had floor to ceiling, jaw-dropping views  of mountains on one side, bay to the other. Satoshi is a notorious cheapskate but on this occasion he was happy to have the premium room.

It was hard to tear ourselves away from the view, but the dogs insisted, so we strolled around the park and got them really tired. Satoshi got to repeat the exercise four times the next day on his own, maneuvering three dogs up and down the elevators. Lick of course was freaked out by the elevator and would try to dart out just as the doors closed, or Rolo would wave his tail right into the sensor, causing the elevator door to do that stuttering thing as Satoshi frantically jabbed at the Close Door button, hoping to forestall people from joining him. (Though most people took one look and waited. Once outside the dogs would charge off at full speed in every direction. Since it snowed overnight, there was a nice coating of ice on all the sidewalks making control of the three-way team a reall challenge. I was rather amazed to get back from the conference and find Satoshi in one piece. He sure got a workout.

The conference was fun and informative: I went to two BI talks on SSIS data flow and flat file processing by John Welch, and one very nice intro to Tableau. Then there was a great lunchtime session that included a panel on women in IT, and a demo of SQL Azure. Last for the day was Kendra Little on the vagaries of date-time data types. An amazingly fun session, and though she had clever slides, she was not fazed when the breakers for the room tripped, leaving the projector dark. Now that’s a well-prepared presenter! Great blog too.

Our only regret was that the overnight snowfall discouraged us from trying to visit Aberdeen Center for Chinese food, but it’s a good excuse to go back again. Thanks Vancouver for a great time!

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The Lay of Bomlo’s Last Stand

I’ve been reconnecting with poetry lately. Whereas it used to be something a teacher forced me to do, as I get older I enjoy it immensely, and have been digging out my old lit books to read poems I liked even in the classroom.
Even when “literature” provoked a gag reflex, from time to time the professor would introduce me to some irresistible artist, and then I would go off and actually buy a book by Pablo Neruda or Gabriel Garcia Marquez  and read it whenever I needed a good fix.
I even decided that I needed to immerse myself in haiku and tanka, and asked Satoshi to pick up a good book on Japanese poetry while he was in Japan. However, as an engineering major, he apparently still hates poetry more than I ever did, for he solemnly informed me on his return that Japanese bookstores don’t carry books on haiku.
Anyway, my latest foray into the poetry aisle of Barnes and Noble had me admiring the genius of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowolf for about an hour. So when my great warrior friend Bomlo demanded I write a story about him, I decided to do a bad imitation Beowolf.
(P.S. I think Bomlo is a club bouncer by trade in the real world, but he’s even more tough in the MMORPG where we met.)
So here it is, inspired by the LOTRO universe. Bomlo is a beautiful woman warrior, tall and flaxen-haired, a great captain of men who fell as she attempted the return from the pit, Dar-Narbugnud. The minstrel is me, a gray-haired hobbit, stopped but clear-eyed. I don’t claim it’s good but it was fun to write!!
Before The Byre
stanzas inspired by Seamus Heaney
Spake he then of deeds,
the minstrel, ashen-faced, before the fire
palsied hands struck weak chords
then fell, remembering
and to the mourners , grim-faced
spoke cold comfort
lips a-trembling
Fell words, fell deeds
the herald ascending,
ere the pit of hell, her mistress slain
ten and twice ten they came
the orcs, fire a-bearing
alone she fought, defenders fallen
faithless kinsmen fled
brave Bomlo
No words of ease can bard speak
nor fellows arms claim succor
only cry aloud, remembering
clamoring blades, the clash of breast
on shield, dark blood surrounding
slain foes her mound
and yet they came still
valiant was her stand
fair Bomlo
Long shall we mourn her
brave shieldmaiden
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Saying goodbye to Michi

The cat’s head pops out of my shirt and is just visible under my chin. I found that if I rest him on my chest and button my fleece jacket tightly, he’s comfortable for a while. I guess it’s warm and soft there, and maybe he feels safe. But it’s hard for me to move around much and I have a stabbing pain in my neck and shoulders from reaching around him to type and use the mouse.
Better than the pain he is facing. Tears drop over his head and onto my hands as I think about the long slide into darkness. I cry and tell him that heaven is waiting, where there will be patches of sunshine and tulips swaying in the breeze. He twitches ever so slightly, but his feet and ears are so cold.
Michi has been living with us for 23 years, since we picked him up on a street in Kumamoto. We were on the way to have our daughter baptized at the Obiyama church, and he followed us to church. He was a young cat with striking markings, half-Siamese and half-tabby. No one in the neighborhood knew whose cat he might be, and since we were in the bad habit of rescuing strays, we took him home. A few days later we rushed him to the vet when he became unable to breathe. The vet found that he had been run over, probably by a small motorcycle or bicycle, and his peritoneum had ruptured so that his intestines were up into his neck, collapsing his trachea. This sounded like a death sentence, but the vet assured us that cats can handle such injuries far better than humans.
And rebound he did, quickly becoming the most ingratiating, outgoing, personality-packed member of our family of cats. He was number 5, joining Chibi, Gulliver, Shima-chan, and Lily.  There was plenty of room in Nishihara-mura for cats, and they all got along well, and handled the addition of three children to their house with almost canine tolerance and cheer.
By the time we moved to the United States, only Michi and Chibi were left. Both cats endured the long ride in the plane with our dog, Hana, and happily adjusted to the new, big yards of the US.
If you knew Michi, you were unlikely to forget the encounter. He was — still is — the most sociable cat you’ll ever meet, happy to be out, and vocal when he needed your attention. His half-Siamese warble had been perfected over the years to break up any conversation, to pierce through background noise, headsets, and slumber. He experimented, I swear, with how long he could hold a note or how he increase the volume towards the end to compel your attention.
Last summer we rented an RV so that we could take him to Montana for Robin and Charlie’s wedding. At that time, he was 20 years old and we feared he would get sick or neurotic if left in someone else’s care that long. It was a wonderful trip and keeping him on leash was no problem at all. In fact, he seemed ecstatic with the RV — he got to ride on a comfy chair in the sun, surrounded by family all day long, and see the world. I think he was born to be a traveling RV cat, and I’m sorry we didn’t try it sooner, or give him more travel.
The vet says he might be in pain – he’s cool to the touch, and he can’t walk or drink or eat. But he’s still in good cheer, and meows for attention, though only in a peep, an echo of his full-voiced glory. If we’re reluctant to let him go, it’s because he’s been an intimate part of our lives for so many years, and a good companion. If there is a Rainbow Bridge, Michi, I long to see you there. Our house will be still and lonely without you.
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