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2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2010. That’s about 29 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 56 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 165 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 55mb. That’s about 3 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was July 12th with 322 views. The most popular post that day was Dressing the undressable: fashion tips for the hopeless.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, twitter.com, torontosunfamily.blogspot.com, sarahcrosbie.com, and cisblog.ca.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for fergie, fergie bikini, fergie pics, fergie photos, and black bikini.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Dressing the undressable: fashion tips for the hopeless July 2010

2

Fergie on a boat (also, a bikini photo) June 2010
1 comment

3

Life after journalism, Part 92: ‘I chose love over career… and got screwed up the wazoo’ July 2010
12 comments

4

About the project May 2010
4 comments

5

A miraculous victory over a deadly cancer July 2010
9 comments

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Recession survival guide: Quit job, go on a 4,500-km walk

Tamsin

  I’ve never actually worked with Tamsin, but I feel like I have because I accidentally followed her to Peterborough and Kingston, just missing her each time. When everybody else in journalism was worried about their jobs (or at least when the worry peaked in 2008), Tamsin said the hell with it. She flew to California, and walked all the way to British Columbia on the Pacific Crest Trail. Here’s why.  

So when the economy had a heart attack, you took a buyout and went for a long walk. Walk me through your reasoning?
I didn’t actually take a buyout – although I applied for one. Didn’t get it, so I just left on my own.  

But I’d been thinking about this hike for awhile – years actually. It was one of those things I’d always wanted to do. It was one of those: “I’ll do it one day” things that everyone always says but few people rarely follow through on. It was at the top of the list of things I was going to do when I won the lottery.  

Then, as you said, the economy had a heart attack and newspapers were taking a bit of a nosedive. There were buyouts and then layoffs at my workplace and I was pretty low on the seniority list there. I figured that I didn’t actually need to win the lottery to do this hike. I did the math and it’s pretty cheap to live in the woods these days. So I figured I could spend a year fighting for my job, worried about getting laid off and worried about my future, or I could just take the plunge and go. It was like well, why isn’t today that “One Day”?  

How many kilometres was it, and where exactly does it run?
It’s about 4,500 kilometres, a little more than that. It starts at the U.S./Mexico border near Campo, California, about an hour from San Diego. It goes through all of California, Oregon and Washington and then 12km into B.C. in the interior near Hope, B.C. It follows the mountains inland, not the coast.  

What kind of training was involved?   

Hiking

There was no training whatsoever. I gained a bunch of weight beforehand, actually. I was pretty lazy. I figured I’d just walk it off and I did. The training was the first two weeks of hiking. I woke up every day stiff, sore, with my feet swollen and blistered. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck everyday. But that went away after a few weeks on the trail.  

Once you got going, did you ever just want to quit?
There was never a time when I wanted to quit. A lot of people do quit, but I really started out with the goal of finishing it. I never straye from that. I had some bad days, but nothing that ever made me want to go home.  

Best memory?
There are too many good memories to put my finger on. Soaking in a secluded natural hot spring pool on a star-covered night. Summiting Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48, even when others turned back because of the amount of snow. Listening to the elk bugeling in the dark during a snow storm. Hiking the spectacular Goat Rocks wilderness in Northern Washington in the fall. Finishing the trail and knowing I had hiked every step of it, even after people said it was too late in the year to keep hiking, that I couldn’t make it. Hiking into Yosemite National Park on July 4th. Having ABC World News come film me hiking on the trail for a story. Crossing the Canadian border and realizing I’d started six months before by pressing my hand up against the fence at the Mexican border. I could go on. I met a guy. We’re still together. So I guess that counts as a highlight. 

Worst memory?

A long walk.

Even my worst memories are still fond ones. We hit some extremely cold weather in the last two weeks – snow, freezing temperatures, icy wind. I remember going through a very tough section in the Glacier Peak Wilderness of northern Washington. The trail was actually closed because it had been wiped out from a huge mudslide some years before. But apparently the detour was so overgrown that everyone just took the original trail. There were tons of huge trees that had fallen down – overturned trees with roots as tall as a building. You had to climb over each one. At one point, there was a bridge across a creek that had been washed out from the mudslides. Some crews had built a new bridge about a mile off-trail, but we just couldn’t find it. After bushwhacking and trying to scramble up the steep hill on the other side of the bridge, it got dark and we finally gave up. We camped on the bridge. It seemed like a good idea at a time, but bridges are particularly cold since there’s nothing but air rushing beneath them. It was a pretty bitter night. Everything was wet and cold. I spent the entire night exhausted and freezing. And we still had to find the trail in the morning. There was about a week of conditions like this and it was truly gruelling. Did you ever think you’d work in journalism again (she works in New Brunswick at a paper now)?
I did. The hike was never meant to be a goodbye to journalism. It was just sort of a reset I guess, a reevaluation, or just perhaps fodder for a book one day. Journalism is in my blood, so no matter where I am or what I end up doing with my life, I think it will never be too far removed from journalism.
 

‘I don’t think a single person in the world loved that boy’

Giraffe and Karen

Karen and another dangerous offender.

Emmanuel Bedard is one mean bastard. 

While in jail for some petty crimes, he beat another inmate to death with a coffee mug full of wet toilet paper. He stomped on his head over and over to make sure he wouldn’t get back up. 

I was in the Peterborough courtroom when a judge decided to try him as a dangerous offender. 

He wasn’t very old. His hair and sunken cheeks made him look like Morrissey, or maybe a minor character from the Outsiders. 

The judge passed his verdict, Bedard barely blinked.

He was just a kid. And, he never really stood a chance.

I kind of realized it at the time, but the whole story came into better focus a year later when Karen wrote a series about him for the Ottawa Citizen. The paper didn’t actually run the story, so the Peterborough Examiner did. It was an amazing piece of work, even more so because it pretty much drove her out of the businesss (she works at a non-profit now).

 Here’s what she remembers. There is a link to her stories at the very bottom.

He kind of looked like these guys.

You wrote a really deep piece about Emmanuel, how did you get started with that?
I was a cub reporter at the Peterborough Examiner – my first job out of J-school – and there was a riot at the local prison. An inmate was killed. The culprits came to be known as the “Millbrook 9.” One in particular stomped on the dead guy’s head over and over and over again. His name was Emmanuel Bedard and the first time I saw him was in Peterborough court.
Several years later, I was working with the Ottawa Citizen and learned that Bedard was being tried as a dangerous offender. I did some digging, found out he grew up in foster care in the Ottawa area.
His story starts like this: When he was taken from his mother by children’s aid, Bedard was a year old. He was severely malnourished and developmentally delayed. By the time he was six, he had bounced through 17 foster homes. When he was 12, he was removed from yet another foster home.

This is how you do interviews in jail.

And you visited him in jail, right? What was that like?
I visited him a few times in jail. It was like what you see in the movies – the guy in orange talking through the glass wall on the phone. His hands and legs were cuffed. By this time, he was 18. Not a scary dude by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, he was just happy that he actually had a visitor.
He told me he would tell his story and granted me full access to otherwise restricted files through the Children’s Aid Society.

What were your actual impressions of him? Did you like him?
It’s hard to say I liked a cold-blooded killer because that’s what he was. I think he was initially in jail for something petty, but he confessed to killing the guy – and from what I understand, it was like something had snapped and his rage was uncontrollable. Not the kind of guy you want to take home for dinner.
On the other hand, his story was so pathetic. He was a boy who grew up in the system and, I felt, was betrayed by the system. What kind of a chance does a child have when he spends his first six years living in 17 foster homes? It was a really tough life, and things only got worse as he got older.
I didn’t feel like he was meeting me because he wanted to be in the spotlight. I think he just enjoyed having some attention and feeling that his life, his story, might actually mean something to someone.
I don’t think a single person in the world loved that boy.

Do you think he’ll ever get out? Do you ever think about writing?
No, I wouldn’t write him. It’s not the right thing to do. He was starting to call me collect from jail rather frequently – and it’s not my goal in life to be the object of desire for a guy serving a life sentence as a dangerous offender.
I don’t know if he’ll ever get out. I understand that as a dangerous offender, which he was declared, you get to spend the rest of your life in jail.

You said it was the last story you ever wrote for a newspaper – why?
It was the second last story – the last was the disappearance and murder of Ardeth Wood, a young woman in Ottawa. She had been abducted in broad day light on the bike paths. Her body was found hidden behind some bushes. Both were gut wrenching stories that kept me up in the middle of the night and I pretty much had enough.    

The Stories

A bionanotechnologist’s hopeful moon shot

Kim.

I went to elementary school with Kim, at least for two years. This project has made me realize that my social life must have started in Grade 5 when I moved to a new school, because there are literally no friends from earlier than this on my profile. I’m not sure if that’s interesting or not.

Anyway, Kim falls into the “smartest people I know” category. I helped her put together a package for the Canadian Space Agency last year when they were looking for new astronauts. I desperately hoped she would get in, because it would have been pretty awesome to know someone  in orbit.

How did the astronaut thing come about, anyway?
The astronaut thing — there’s kind of two sides to that story. When I finished my undergrad I had a degree in chemistry and a bachelor of education, so I thought I was going to be a teacher. I was back in Ottawa where I grew up, ready to start my job in September.
I was wandering around on Canada Day and happened to see Julie Payette speak in Major’s Hill Park about how she became an astronaut.
She said she finished her undergrad then decided to do a masters. I thought “I could do that.” She worked for a bit then decided to go back to do a PhD. I thought “I could do that.” A few years later, she answered an ad in the papers, calling for astronauts. I thought, “I could do that.”
And then it hit me. I COULD do that. It was the first time I ever thought I could do more than what I had planned on.
It didn’t change anything right away, mind you. I taught for two years before leaving teaching to go do a masters (which I turned in to a PhD), and even then I wasn’t thinking about becoming an astronaut. I was looking for different kinds of challenges.

So what did you study?
I finished my PhD in bionanotechnology, worked for a year in the states, moved back to a job in Ottawa, and a few months later, ads appeared from the Canadian Space Agency looking to recruit new astronauts. So of course I applied.
I can’t remember exactly now, but I think more than 5,000 people applied in the first step – an online questionnaire. I got past that one. They weeded it down to about half I think (or 3,000) who were asked to send in a resume.
I did that and was then asked to fill in another, more in-depth, online form. So I guess I made it past two screenings along with about 600-1000 other people.

Sadly, not Kim.

What was the astronaut screening like?
The online form was crazy. I know I don’t hold a candle to those who were eventually picked, but I had no idea they were looking for people who were already astronauts.
They asked questions like, “Have you ever experienced zero G?” “Do you know how to drive a rocket ship?”
Anyway, it was a little daunting. I knew then that I wasn’t going to the next round. But I was still glad I tried. I’m still a little bummed at times that I’ll never get that chance, but I’ll never be sorry that I passed up the chance to try.

What sort of research did you do in school?
It involved creating biocompatible nanoparticles (about 1000 would fit side-by-side in a millimetre) that could transport genes or drugs across the cell membrane into the cell. These could be used for gene therapy (replacing the activity of “defective” genes) or for targeted drug therapy.
During my studies I became less interested in the applications and more interested in the fate of the nanoparticles inside the cells. So I turned my focus there.

How crazy sci-fi can this get? Will little robots fix my spleen?
I don’t think there will be tiny robots fixing anything anytime soon. Gene therapy, which was once deemed the future of medicine has kind of fallen by the wayside. Mostly because people started realizing that there are a lot of inherent risks with it, and we don’t really understand all the workings of cells and bodies.
It’s amazing, really, that for as much as we think we as an advanced society know, we really still don’t know most of it. That fascinates me. And it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about cells or organisms or geology, the environment, weather – we just don’t know as much as we’re led to believe we do.

No need to fear this, says Kim.

So you’re ninja smart about science. So, what should we be afraid of? Killer bees? Firecanos? Acid rain? Global warming?
That’s an interesting question. What do I think we should really be afraid of? I am concerned about the environment, fresh water supplies, global warming. I am not worried about that large hadron collider, though.
I think there is an interesting dynamic at work between researchers and governments. Those that truly enjoy basic research do what they do because they are curious. They are not trained to think about the possible consequences, particularly negative ones, that might arise from how other people might exploit their discovery.
Governments also are reluctant to put limits on any new discoveries, particularly if it will make them lose money. Look at their reluctance to do anything about global warming that will cost money, or reduce revenues. It has nothing to do with good science, but everything to do with money.
So I guess my biggest worry is that something will be discovered that is incredible, that will then be exploited in some terrible way and the governments of the world will be too slow off the mark in controlling it or containing it.
Then again, I don’t really think governments should be controlling or directing research, either. It’s a tough position to be in – to be involved enough to limit any catastrophes may arise from it, but also to be removed enough so that basic curiosity-driven research can continue. I guess I don’t really know where the balance should be.

Fergie on a boat (also, a bikini photo)

Bill on a boat.

When I was a new reporter in Peterborough and away from my hometown for the first time, Bill invited me to his home to have Christmas dinner with his family.

And the best part about any visit with Bill is that he’s got a lot of great stories about small-town newspapering. This is my favourite, though, and it involves a drunken former Duchess who was recently in the news for trying to sell access to her ex-husband.

“My first newspaper job – post graduation – was a summer position for a small then-independent weekly in the tiny town of Minden, Ontario. For a whopping $225 a week (and they didn’t pay mileage), most of my time was spent writing features about resorts and summer hotspots in the Haliburton Highlands. I also took a bunch of pictures, developed a lot of film and I even spent a few hours of week delivering papers as far north as Dorset. It wasn’t so bad. I used to keep swim trunks in my car and would often take a dip in one of the local lakes on a lunch break. And at the time, Minden was home to one of the best bars in Ontario – the legendary Rockcliffe Hotel.

Among the characters who worked at the newspaper was a Scottish woman whose name I don’t remember. But I do remember she was a big fan of the Royal Family. That summer, The Duke and Duchess of York – Andrew and Fergie – were making a visit to Canada. They had been married the year before and their visit was kind of a big deal. Officially, they were visiting Toronto and later, they were to go canoeing somewhere in Western Canada. But an unofficial visit got my attention.

When I got to work one morning, the paper’s owner, Jack, and the Scottish woman were talking about the royal visit. One of the stories on Canada AM made a passing reference to Fergie getting some canoe training in before she went out west for her official canoe trip. Scottish woman was speculating about whether that might include a visit to Minden. The area is home to one of the best white water reserves in Ontario. Jack said he saw a helicopter flying over that area in the morning so he asked me to take my camera up to the reserve for a look. It seemed far-fetched but it was better than inserting flyers so I jumped at it.

Fergie, who once canoed.

I get to the reserve and there’s not much going on. A few people are walking around, so I grabbed my camera and walked over to the water. A few minutes later, a local cop comes up to me and asks what I’m doing. Maybe he thinks he’s clever because he’s dressed in plain clothes… excep, he’s wearing a souvenir pin of the Royal Family. Smart.

So I was upfront about why I was there. He denied anything was going on but he asked me to leave. I pushed back. I just wanted a couple of pictures and I would be gone.

Just then, Jack drives up. He was friends with the cop and they walked away and talked it over for a few minutes.

Jack asked me to leave. He didn’t want to screw up the relationship with the local cops. We would get the story after the visit was over.

Jack drove away.

I was pissed.

So I’m driving away but it just doesn’t seem right. I pull into a farm down the road and decide to go through the bush back to the calmer waters below the rapids. As I get near the water, I see a couple in a canoe who appear to be practising falling out, and then getting back in. I also see several people wandering around the shore with what looked like machine guns. Stupid and stubborn, I took off my T-shift and wrapped it around my camera body so it wouldn’t make noise. Then I proceeded to take pictures. At one point, I had to lie down in a bush when one of the gun-toting guards walked near. When it was clear, I high-tailed it back to my car and returned to the office.

I was pumped.

Wrong Fergie.

My boss… not so much.

He was pissed. I told him that nobody saw me. I would develop the film and then he could decide what he wanted to do with it.

Twenty minutes later, I’m out of the darkroom and his mood has changed. There’s a British reporter in his office – I think from the Mirror – who was also chasing a rumour that Fergie might be in the area. He said he got drinking with a pair of Mounties in Toronto the night before and they spilled the beans. But he got there too late.

Jack, meanwhile, is bragging that we have photos and we might be willing to share them with the Mirror.

I can still picture him, minutes later, when the local cop from the white water reserve came in to thank him for leaving the scene. His head down, mumbling some sort of apology, he was stifling a bit of a grin.

Fergie has always meant a little bit more to me since then. And we have something in common. I was supposed to get a cut from the money the Mirror guy was to pay us to use the photos… money, I suppose, for sharing my access to a member of the Royal Family. I never saw a dime.

Didn’t Fergie just in trouble for trying to do the same sort of thing?”

Japan: As odd as you think

Danyk gets help.

Last time I saw Danyk, we were underage drinkers on the wrong side of the river. We were at his father’s place, who really didn’t mind having a bunch of drunk (but incredibly well intentioned) 16 year olds hanging around.

There was nothing particularly rowdy about it – I spent most of the night talking about writing with his father. So almost 20 years later, it was a little odd to find myself talking about writing with Danyk. Even odder, considering he now lives in Japan.

You live in Japan – what the Hell?
Yeah. Japan. I’ve been living here for seven years now. Man, has it been that long? Like Charles Bukowski says, ‘The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses…’ Ten years ago, I was living in Korea for a year. Came back to Ottawa. Found a job teaching ESL downtown for two years. Met my wife (who’s Japanese) and decided to move to Osaka, Japan. Now I’m an English teacher at an all-girl’s private catholic high school next to Osaka Castle. What the hell, indeed!

Is Japan as weird as we all think it is? What’s with the robots and naked cartoon hotties having sex with octopuses? Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about, either.
Where to begin? The best thing about living here is that just going out of your house guarantees you’ll see something weird. Green tea-flavored Kit Kat bars, red bean-flavored Pepsi, girls in spacesuits handing out hyper-mentholated cigarette packs to bar patrons. They make space-age toilets but still squat over porcelain troughs. Here homeless people never utter the words ‘spare some change’ and they take their slippers off before entering the blue tarp homes they set up in parks…

Octopus porn: Don't try to understand

The foreigners here also like to contribute to the already alien view the natives have of us. Gregg Brown, a fellow teacher and magnum P.I. look-a-like, started a bocce league here six years ago. This European lawn bowling game is usually played on pristine level-ground playing fields, but not here! Grass is a rare commodity (all-kinds) and the parks are more gravely than green but that doesn’t stop us. We play it like a mini-putt version, beers in hand (it’s ok to drink in public), around obstacles like trees, turds, and tiny tots. Once a year, we have a tournament in Utsubo Park. Everyone dresses up in costumes, gets drunk on sangria, and we get the only Canadian-owned pizza shop to deliver a crate of pizzas.

And that’s just the PG-13 kind of weird.

I wonder if the etymology of the word kinky comes from ‘Kinki,’ the Japanese word for the area that includes Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe. Anime has got to be one of Japan’s biggest exports after cars, 3D TVs and Packaged Panties. Japanese people are perfectionists. They take the best thing a country or culture has to offer and try and improve upon it. That applies to pornography as much as it does to robots. In a homogeneous society, it’s hard to think different, let alone look different. So those that do have to really try to think outside the bento box. It will always defy explanation and definition when perceived by another culture, though. Just try explaining to an American why Canadians put vinegar on french fries or to explain how good bacon tastes to a Muslim. They just wont’ get it. Unless they try.

Ed note: kink: 1670s, a nautical term, from Du. kink “twist in a rope” (also found in French and Swedish), probably related to O.N. kika “to bend at the knee” (see kick). Figurative sense of “odd notion, mental twist” first recorded in Amer.Eng., 1803, in writings of Thomas Jefferson.
kinky: 1844, “full of kinks,” from kink + -y (2). Meaning “odd, eccentric” is from 1889; that of “sexually perverted” is from 1959.

What is it about leaving home that causes people to become artistic?
There are sayings like, ‘wherever you go, there you are.’ and ‘a leopard can’t change it’s spots.’ The implication is that you can’t change who you are. But then there are stories like that of the Ugly Duckling in which the moral implies that you are only as ugly as the people around you imply. What this means to the expat artist is that you can’t really shine unless you immerse yourself in a situation that nurtures your talent for creative thought and desire for reinvention. Here I’ve gotten work as a voice actor, an iJay (a term I’ve coined for djing with two ipods), I’ve also organized photo scavenger hunt exhibitions (Kameraoke), designed flyers and dvd covers. I am now studying Aikido and fronting a band called Union Trouble (acknowledged by everyone but the bassist). Performing and writing have always come naturally to me and being around so many expat artists just inspires one to express more, do more, see more, and be more.

Cheap Trick: Big in Japan

What’s the music scene like there? Are people still crazy for Cheap Trick?
…and Helloween, Extreme, Eric Clapton, Yngwe Malmsteen, Vai, Satriani, and all the other guitar greats. Why that can’t translate into an equally rich music scene here in Japan, I’ll never know. You’d go broke trying to hit all the shows played by the reunited bands of the past and all the new ones playing at Summer Sonic and Fuji Rock Festival. I take comfort in the fact that the next best thing to going to these concerts is saying you could have gone but CHOSE not to. What are you going to do when Bob Dylan and AC/DC are playing the same night at two different venues?

You have a quote on your page: “That wellspring of creativity don’t fill itself. Keep at it.” What do you do to keep the well full?
I write as often as I shit. Morning pages are what some people call it. Writing three pages every morning is like jogging around the track. It keeps you toned and ready for when real inspiration strikes. What I mean by morning pages is that you pick up a pen, a writing journal you pay no more than a dollar for and you fill three pages with flotsam and jetsam of the waking mind. You do this at the beginning of your day to purge yourself of all that prevents you from simply being. It’s a great stress-reliever. A fear written on a page is a fear easily diminished. This is my routine, or as close as I get to one.

I rarely go back and read what I’ve written, unless I’m looking for something specific. I also write in an anti-chronological way to prevent looking at things as ‘great-good-ok-shit-blank.’ Picture approaching a notebook the way Quentin Tarantino approaches a storyline: I write my first scribbles in the middle. The next thing I write between the front and middle. Then I write something in between the back and middle. That way, as the notebook fills up, I can find inspirational ideas next to shitty ones, but all the time I feel compelled to write more.