Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The New Ride, The Old Stompin' Grounds, and Degrees of Separation

Spent the August long weekend in Toronto, doing....stuff.

The New Ride

Saturday, after having lunch from the stalls at the St. Lawrence Market, we headed off to the Urbane Cyclist to get me a recumbent bicycle. The HPVOoO folks told me to try and get Carey to show me the bikes. He was busy, so I wound up with a guy called Chris.

First, I tried a model with underseat steering (this one, or one much like it). As I mounted for a test ride, Carey and Chris had a little disagreement on the proper way to start riding with USS, for someone inexperienced on 'bents. It didn't matter, anyways: whatever way I tried, it was painful and terrifying, like being 6 years old again and learning to ride a bike for the first time. Eventually, I fell off trying to do an uphill start (fortunately, falling off a stationary, low-slung recumbent is not particularly hazardous), so I wheeled it back to the shop. At this point I was feeling discouraged enough to give up on the whole idea, go home, and get used to my upright bike again.

Instead, I got Carey to show me a couple of long wheel-base machines. I was pleased to discover that I could actually ride these quite comfortably; they have almost the same feel as a conventional bike (only you're sitting in a nice comfy chair). I was on the point of buying the Bacchetta Agio when I decided to give short wheel-base one more chance, but this time with over-seat steering. The second one I tried, I decided was the one -- a Bacchetta Giro-20 TT. It's different from riding an upright, but not like learning all over. I took it out tonight for a quick trip to the store, and found it wonderfully comfortable -- there's no suspension, but the seat itself provides great cushioning when riding over bumps and curbs. Give me a couple of weeks of training (I'm horribly out of shape) and I'll be commuting to work on it! (Somebody please bother me about that around Labour Day, OK?)

So: Thanks go to Carey and Chris et al at UC for helping me pick the bike, and for prepping it in time to be picked up before closing. If you're ever in TO looking for some self-propelled wheels: Urbane Cyclist are the go-to guys.

The Strip

Went for dinner at the Korean Grill House on Yonge Street (definitely recommended if you're at all into that barbecue-your-own-dinner schtick), then wandered a few blocks down the famous Strip. Growing up in TO, I used to go down there fairly regularly, and it was neat to see that essentially it hasn't changed. Yeah, the billboards are now fancy-flashy animated LED signs, Sam the Record Man is now just a sad facade, and the crowds aren't nearly as lily-white as they were 30 years ago (if anything, the colour mix has reversed), but basically Yonge Street is still the same garish trashy hodge-podge of small stores selling everything, bars, bistros, cinemas -- and of course, strip joints. Hogtown's perennial floating party.

Museum Musings

Sunday was the AGM of the Humanist Association of Canada. I attended the morning session, which was about all my allergy to meetings and group politics could handle, and after lunch I wandered across to the ROM to see if that new pointy thing facing Bloor Street looks as horrible from the inside as it does from the outside. Yeah, I get that this thing is supposed to suggest the angles and striations of a quartz crystal, and I don't object in principle to weird-shaped buildings -- but an annex should respect the architecture of the existing structure, and to me the Crystal just clashes horribly with the old Gothic stone of the original ROM. Meh.

Inside it's not so bad: the Crystal works fine as an entry hall, and the galleries are bright and airy. There's a great display of Jurassic ichthyosaurs and other marine reptiles. However, I'm not so crazy about what they've done with the dinosaurs and mammals: I preferred the old dioramas. Instead these things are just stuck out on white platforms with signs to tell you the name and age. But there isn't nearly enough explanatory material to tie the whole thing together -- something about the affinities and ecology to make the specimens more than just a bunch of mounted skeletons.

A lot of the original ROM seems to be undergoing renovation: the old Invert Paleo gallery was boarded up; all that was on display were a couple of cases out on the balcony -- and disappointingly, most of the Burgess material was removed for study. I can't find anything on the ROM website indicating where and when we'll be getting those exhibits back. The beautiful old rotunda, demoted from grand entry hall, now looks sadly abandoned -- I hope they find something worthy to do with that space (a big dino like the barosaur in the entry of the AMNH wouldn't be out of place, albeit a bit derivative).

If I sound a little upset, it's because the ROM has a lot of good memories for me. As a kid, I used to beg my parents to take me there on Saturday to see the dinosaurs. Then as a teenager with the astronomy bug, I spent a lot of time next door at the McLaughlin Planetarium (now defunct). As little as three years ago at the last Toronto Howlerfest, it was still recognizable as my old ROM -- but now I go back, and find it's all different.

At least the two big totem poles still stand in the old stairwells.

After hours, we HAC people got a talk and private tour of the travelling Darwin exhibit, from its curator Chris Darling. We originally saw it last fall in Chicago, and it was interesting to see the differences from that venue. The Weston Hall, in addition to being an irregular shape instead of rectilinear, is much better lit than the Field Museum gallery.

Also from Dr. Darling, we learned out that plans for a Gallery of Evolution at the ROM are on indefinite hold, as they can't find a corporate sponsor, just as they couldn't for the Darwin exhibit. Apparently even in enlightened Canada, the E-word is too controversial and scares off anyone with a "brand" to protect. Damn these creationists for shoving their bigotted ignorance on the rest of the world.

Degrees of Separation

The HAC dinner speaker was Brian Alters, famous for having a research grant denied by a Canadian government granting agency because his proposal failed to provide "adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design theory, was correct." To this day, SSHRC has failed to provide a satisfactory explanation of exactly what was meant by that. Alters (who was also a plaintiffs' witness at the Kitzmiller trial) gave a lively and humorous talk covering choice bits of the ID-Creationist/Evolution controversy. Much later in the evening, he regaled a few of us stragglers with anecdotes about the late Stephen Jay Gould, whom he knew at Harvard. So, having shaken hands and conversed with Brian Alters, we now have a Gould Number of 2.

Another talking head at the HAC evening was president Dr. Robert Buckman, who in addition to being an oncologist, has also worked in broadcasting, both in science journalism and comedy. He worked with John Cleese on the 1979 Amnesty International benefit event The Secret Policeman's Ball -- meaning we now also have a Monty Python Number of 2.

At the HAC dinner there was also some guy who's been in the news recently (some small dispute about something or other), receiving a Humanist Lifetime Achievement Award. We didn't actually meet him personally, but others did, so I guess that gives us a Henry Morgentaler Number of (also) 2.


Mona Albano said...

I can't believe that I missed the Darwin Exhibit! First it had just started, then I had plenty of time to see it, and finally it was only one weekend left and we were out of town! Sounds like I should have gone to the AGM.

I went to one of Dr. Morgentaler's birthday parties, which was held in the Elgin Theatre.

I'd like to be an occasional contributer to your blog. I occasionally have something to say that doesn't really fit into Science Notes, but I don't want to put it into my personal blog, which is read by about three people.

Theo Bromine said...

Hi Mona,

I'm not sure the best way to get in touch with you - hopefully you are subscribed to get followup comments by email.

We are flattered by the idea that you would like to be an occasional contributor to our blog - not that we have that many more readers here. And as you have probably noticed, this blog is a bit of a free-for-all with respect to range of topics. In any case, if you would like to follow up, please email me: th3obromin3 [at] gmail.com